Art hangout no longer just the gallery

August 06, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Care for some art as an appetizer? Or perhaps an oil painting with your new 'do'? Maybe a watercolor with that fresh set of windshield wiper blades?

You no longer have to go to a gallery or museum to see such things -- works by local artists are cropping up in places where people can't miss them.

Restaurants are the most common uncommon venues, but home-grown artworks also can be found on display locally in a beauty parlor, banks and a car dealership. Last year, a police chief allowed a miniart show in his office.

"There really aren't that many galleries out there, and artists are desperate for exposure," said Sandra Oxx, director of the Carroll County Arts Council.

Gina Somerlock, president of the Howard County Art Guild, was startled when a Howard County beauty parlor asked the guild to hang art in the place.

"At first, I thought, 'No way, Jose!' Then I thought, 'Why not?' " she said.

In February, the guild installed a set of paintings in the back of Hair Affair above the counter where people have their hair dyed. Another row of pictures hangs over the hair dryers.

"It enhances the salon," said Mary Smith, who has owned the Ellicott City shop at U.S. 40 and St. John's Lane with her husband, Paul Lee Smith Jr., since 1985.

Every two months, the guild changes the artwork. Usually, there are about seven pictures ranging from about $75 to $350.

"I look at it every time I come in to see what's different," said Barbara Gilmartin, a Columbia resident who visited the salon this week.

Two paintings have been sold to customers, and another led to a $500 commission for Somerlock.

Hildegard Haney saw some of Somerlock's paintings of flowers at the beauty shop, but wanted something different -- lilacs. Somerlock agreed to paint them.

"I adore it," Haney said of the painting. "It was definitely worth it."

Business owners see the unofficial art shows as a chance to support the local arts community and have an ever-changing array of paintings on their walls.

"A lot of people don't know this art is available," said Bob Friday, vice president and branch manager of First Mariner Bank on Jennifer Road in Annapolis. "Displaying it is just being a part of the community."

Last fall, the bank began displaying one painting from the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Friday's office, and several more in the bank's lobby.

Maryland Hall rotates the paintings about every two months, and a few have sold.

"Mostly it's a chance for the artists to be seen, not necessarily to sell," Friday said.

Other banks that display the works of local artists include Mellon Bank on West Street in Annapolis and Westminster Bank on Main Street in Westminster.

Among other unusual venues for artwork are the office of Anne Arundel County Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver in Annapolis, and Griffith's Auto Park on Baltimore Boulevard in Westminster.

Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts hung several paintings in Tolliver's office for about a year in a show that ended this spring.

"It was very decorative, and several sold," said Lt. Jeff Kelly, Tolliver's spokesman.

Polygraph examiner Lloyd White and his wife, Mary, bought two Annapolis nautical scenes for $400 shortly after they were hung in the chief's office.

"We had just bought a new townhouse, and the colors were perfect," said White. "We feverishly made a phone call, and my wife said that was what she wanted."

At the auto dealership in Carroll County, it was the artists who approached the business about five years ago. "They're very aggressive, and this gives them good exposure. There are a lot of classy people that come in here," said Herb Denton, general manager of Griffith's Auto Park.

Restaurants are, by far, the most common place to find local art outside galleries and shows.

Louie's Bookstore Cafe in Baltimore blazed that trail more than a decade ago, when original owner Jimmy Rouse poured his first cup of coffee there.

"He started Louie's to give artists and musicians employment, so it was a natural thing to have the art," said Lisa Hillman, the store's human resources director.

Though Rouse sold the business four months ago to Catherine Ronalds-Delauro, he still chooses the art that gets hung in the cafe.

Like Louie's, 49 West Coffeehouse in Annapolis chooses what goes on its walls. Most places allow local arts clubs or guilds to choose what is displayed.

"We want to fit as many as we can in our place," said Sarah Cahalan, who owns the West Street bistro with her husband, Brian.

They have been featuring the works of local artists since they opened in late 1996. The pieces they choose generally cost between $300 and $2,000. The walls of 49 West are booked with art into 2001.

"It's a glorious thing to see the extent of creative people in this town," Cahalan said.

Among other restaurants that display the works of local artists are the Fat Cat Cafe and Chameleon restaurant on Main Street in Westminster, Piccolo's in Columbia and Riverside Roastery and Espresso in Ellicott City.

Piccolo's began hanging local art last September and generally has eight or nine pieces on display. Riverside has been featuring local artists since it opened five years ago, and owner Jill Lentz wants to use local art in her new Riverside Roastery and Espresso in Columbia.

"We notice that a lot of people come in and look at it and comment on it," Lentz said.

Gary Sangster, director of Baltimore's Contemporary Museum, said art should not be relegated to galleries.

The Contemporary Museum has no standing exhibits. Instead, it puts on displays of contemporary art in various places around Baltimore. Its next show, opening in October, will be in the storefront of a parking garage on Holliday Street.

"Art is part of life. It's not something ephemeral," Sangster said. "It should be out there."

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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