Gallery toasts 5 years of approachable art Owner invites viewers' questions HOWARD COUNTY DIVERSIONS

October 09, 1992|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

When Margaret Smith stepped into an art gallery in Baltimore several years ago and asked a question about one of the works on display, the only response she received was an icy glance.

Intimidation is not what Ms. Smith believes art galleries should be about, and she has done all in her power to make her own -- the Margaret Smith Gallery in historic Ellicott City -- approachable.

"Art should be fun, festive, touchable and reachable," said the 33-year-old Oella resident.

Apparently, it's that philosophy that has helped keep the gallery going for five years, in spite of the country's economic decline.

The business opened during Labor Day weekend 1987 with works of about 30 artists displayed on the first floor of a red brick building on Main Street. Ms. Smith lived in an apartment above the gallery.

Today, the business occupies all three levels of the building and has included works of about 100 artists, most of them from Howard County.

Ms. Smith says the building was formerly a bank, built in 1880. The building has a comfortable ambience, its wood floors complemented by Oriental rugs.

"I wanted to make it comfortable. I went with gray walls rather than white. I don't like the sterile look that some galleries have," Ms. Smith said.

More important than the aesthetics of the building, however, is Ms. Smith's goal to educate those who come inside.

"I encourage questions and practically give a lecture when people want to know something more about an artist's work," she said. Occasionally, the artists themselves have demonstrated their talents at the gallery so others can learn about a particular medium.

Ms. Smith describes the gallery as "eclectic," with a variety of styles and media. Works range in price from $10 for an etching to $2,100 for a sculpted paper piece.

She selects artists after reviewing slides of their work.

"Five years ago, it was easier for a local artist to get a work selected. I have learned a lot from the process," she said.

"Sometimes I will turn down good artists because I don't think they will do well here for reasons of either price or style."

A director for three years of the Bendann Art Galleries in Baltimore, Ms. Smith says she also has experience in organizing exhibits. "I know what to expect from artists and art representatives who promote their clients," she said.

Ms. Smith's dream of opening an art gallery emerged when she '' spent her college sophomore year studying French, German, European history, politics and art history in Europe, where she was "bombarded by art everywhere. I got the art bug bad and never recovered."

The gallery owner graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1981 with a bachelor of arts degree in international studies. She moved to Baltimore in 1983, looking for a job in a gallery.

The 20 artists whose works are being displayed as part of the "Fifth Anniversary Retrospective, 20 of Our Best" show were chosen because of the impact they had made at the gallery.

"They were basically very important to the gallery, not just because of financial reasons and their popularity, but also because of the artists' prestige. For example, Alice Webb, a watercolor artist who has been with us for five years, is president of the Baltimore Watercolor Society and that is good for our reputation," Ms. Smith said.

Another "Top-20" artist is Wiley Purky, who was "born and raised in Ellicott City," she said. Mr. Purky has been exhibiting at the gallery for three years.

Another artist with work on display is Joan Westerman, who died last year. She is described by Ms. Smith as "a longtime resident of Howard County whose representational style is well respected by the art community. Her work is very modern; you understand what's happening but it's verging on the abstract."

Also included in the five-year retrospective is the work of Ken Girardini, an Ellicott City resident who has been exhibiting at the gallery for three years.

The gallery, at 8090 Main St. in Ellicott City, is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Friday hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays, 12 noon to 5 p.m.

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