A business of buds and boarders

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

Thelma Graddy: The 0...

January 14, 1996|By Laura Lippman

A business of buds and boarders; Thelma Graddy: The 0) registered nurse runs a flower business by day and takes care of four elderly people in her home at night.

Thelma Graddy, a formidably energetic 60-year-old, likes to say that she never gets tired.

Good thing, as she works about 18 hours a day, running her own flower shop and taking care of four elderly people who live in her Northeast Baltimore home.

The home-care program came first. Mrs. Graddy, who had worked as a registered nurse in Baltimore, began in 1986 taking in people who could live independently with a little assistance. During the day, they go to day-care centers, then return to her home at night.

Then, about two years ago, Mrs. Graddy discovered the retail floristry program at Dundalk Community College. For someone born with a strong work ethic and a green thumb -- "From my earliest days, I could stick a green sprig of something in dirt and make it grow" -- the program was perfect.

Mrs. Graddy opened her business, Roses and Buds on Harford Road, a year ago, just in time for Valentine's Day. She puts in 12-hour days, then goes home to her four boarders. And she loves every minute of it.

Business is picking up, too. She's just hired her first worker, and Christmas was her biggest season yet. Now, looking ahead to her second Valentine's Day, she chats knowledgeably about rose prices and the way men always ask for plenty of babies' breath in their arrangements.

She opens her arms, as if to embrace her small store, filled with floral arrangements, stuffed animals and chocolates. "What can I say," she says, blissfully unaware of the pun she's about to commit, "I'm a late bloomer."

Artist Tom Dixon has created an East Baltimore emporium for locally made treasures ranging from painted souvenir seashells and steel fish on wheels to clocks he makes from vintage hubcaps.

But perhaps the most singular art at Dixon's Lament, 2111 Eastern Ave., is "The Guiseppe Francoise Fontaine Story," a fictional tale about a mysterious Texas woodcarver, which Mr. Dixon sells along with "artifacts" pertaining to the story.

The 42-year-old artist, a graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, says the project is conceptual art.

"It's a pet rock thing," he explains. And people are buying it.

Guiseppe Fontaine, who is not Italian but "just liked the name," is a secretive whittler, a hermit of unknown origin, who devoted most of the time that Mr. Dixon "knew" him in Texas to making a life-sized hand-carved replica of a 1946 Indian Scout motorcycle. His creator calls him a "Harry Dean Stanton character."

Since opening the store in October, Mr. Dixon has sold copies of the Guiseppe legend along with such relics as old shoes, wallets and ties, which each come with an explanation of how the fictional fellow "used" them.

"It's thrown me back into my school years, when I did performance art and used words and stories with artwork," Mr. Dixon says. "People who buy the story get to pick or choose one of the relics of Guiseppe's life to go with it. It becomes a concept package."

Mr. Dixon also sells more traditional forms of unusual art, such as nonfunctional and functional birdhouses, hand-painted tire pots and iconic clothing relating to Jodie Foster. He considers his store to be an outlet for Baltimore artists, but balks at calling it a gallery.

"The idea of galleries is somewhat sterile -- you figure to go in and see one item at a time," he says. "Here, things aren't put up on a pedestal."

Linell Smith

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