Slayton House offers lively local art scene WEST COLUMBIA

December 02, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

A steady stream of visitors quietly roams the foyer and art gallery area of Slayton House, the community center for Columbia's Village of Wilde Lake, during a weekday lunch hour.

The show includes about 30 paintings, depicting everything from still lifes to desert scenes. The artist is Robert Lewis, a Timonium resident who says a recent trip to the California desert was inspiration for his watercolors on display at the Slayton House Gallery.

"People stop in constantly to see what's on display," says Bernice Kish, the village manager. "We showcase a new artist about every month, so people who live and work in the area know that if they stop by periodically they'll see something new."

This week, paintings by Mr. Lewis will come down and works by members of the Baltimore Watercolor Society, a highly regarded artists' group, will go up.

The village center, the first built in Columbia, has been a hub for fine art and performing arts since its opening in 1967.

In the Slayton House Theatre, which seats about 250, plays by area theatrical groups are offered. Dance Dimensions, a community dance troupe, is based at Slayton House and uses the building for its productions. And during the summer an "art camp" for youths is offered in the center.

Artists and performance groups are charged a space rental fee by Slayton House. Meanwhile, Slayton House staff members help with getting out the word about art or theater events.

"This is a very eye-opening place. There's a lot of artistic expression going on here," says Laurence Bory, president of the Columbia Community Players, a Columbia-based group that puts on three plays annually at Slayton House.

Mr. Bory, who taught high school and college drama courses for 40 years before retiring, says that the Community Players recent production of the comedy "Run for Your Wife" was very well-received.

"We actually made a profit on that one," he says. "With local theater you never really know how many people will turn out. But we did very well on every night."

While Mr. Bory frets about how to attract audiences, he can rest easy, he says, when it comes to finding actors and directors. People turn out for auditions in spades.

Mr. Bory expects 30 actors and actresses to audition this week for the 10 roles in the community players' next play, scheduled for February, "The Musical Comedies of 1940." About 35 actresses showed up to audition for four female roles in the group's production of "Steel Magnolias."

"There's an awful lot of good talent out there in this community," Mr. Bory says. "The actors and actresses in our productions consider themselves lucky to have a nice theater like this to show their talent."

Ms. Kish says that the Slayton House reputation is equally good among painters in the region.

At any given time, Slayton House has a list of 50 artists waiting to show their work at the gallery. Artists to be showcased are selected once a year by Ms. Kish and a committee.

The committee reviews color slides of artists' work and looks for painters who have had at least three gallery shows.

Occasionally that rule is broken, as in the case of an 84-year-old woman who had taken up painting at a late age and was blossoming with talent.

"What we really are looking to do is show a diversity of art. We want a blend that shows the range of expression," says Ms. Kish, herself a painter. Several of her abstract watercolors can be found on the walls of her office.

While artists must pay Slayton House a gallery rental fee, they don't have to pay a sales commission (sometimes as high as 50 percent at commercial art galleries) on art sold in the Slayton House Gallery.

Artists average about four sales during a monthlong showing at the gallery, Ms. Kish says. But some artists have sold as many as 20 works. Prices for paintings have ranged as high as $1,200.

"Artists tend to really like this gallery because it's highly trafficked by a lot of very different people," Ms. Kish says. "You have people coming in for aerobics classes and people coming in to sign their kids up for events. Almost everyone seems to take some time to look at the art on the walls."

Often it is those "walk-ins" who make purchases, she says.

What the village manager really enjoys, though, are the discussions and debates that paintings often stir among viewers.

"The abstract art seems to really evoke some strong feelings in people and get them talking," she says. "Sometimes they hate it, but it's pulled a response from them, which I think is good. Art needs people to be effective. That's why Slayton House is such an important part of this community."

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