Unique gallery lies on road less traveled

Quest: In finding her voice, a Howard artist created Tatiana Ltd., which has offered eclectic works of art for 20 years.

January 27, 2000|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Sure of herself, her talent and her tastes, Tatiana runs her celebrated art gallery out of a converted 19th-century Southern Methodist church in Glenelg with the steely grip of someone determined to bring extraordinary beauty to ordinary things.

It's the hallmark of a determined and passionate artist who splashes liquid 23-karat gold and platinum over her ceramic vessels and centerpieces, and hangs thousands of dollars of precious jewelry on humble mesh screen, the kind found on the screen doors of old country houses.

This is Tatiana's world, a place where you either get it or you don't.

"People who come to this gallery, first of all, have to want to come out here because it is a bit of a hike," Tatiana says, characteristically forthright. "Second of all, you have to be OK with seeing something that's different from what's considered conventionally gorgeous. The thing about this gallery is that there's something here that speaks about having an experience. This is definitely a whole-experience kind of place."

Thousands of her customers would agree. In the 20 years since she opened the heavy, wooden doors of the white church building to the public, Tatiana has made a point of offering eclectic pieces of art and crafts in her gallery -- adding pieces from artists all over the country to the pottery she makes herself.

The paintings, photographs, jewelry, pottery and other pieces from artists that fill the shelves and line the hardwood floors of Tatiana Ltd. aren't cheap. Prices start at $30 for a small item and can quickly climb to $4,000.

But Tatiana Seelinger (who goes by her first name only, a la Cher and Madonna) isn't apologetic. After all, these aren't the kinds of things you can get anywhere else and besides, who else has an art gallery that looks like this one?

"You do have to have money to buy some of these things, but you also have to have taste and you have to have guts, too, because some of this work is very challenging," she says. "It takes tremendous self-assurance to buy some of these things. And it helps if you have a decorator."

Despite the gallery's location on a two-lane road in rural Glenelg, Tatiana's following has grown largely by word-of-mouth. Visitors from as far away as Philadelphia and Northern Virginia have made the trek to the 100-year-old church, which also serves as Tatiana's home.

A patron and supporter of local artists, Tatiana (who gives her age as "somewhere around 50") may not be Howard County's most fiscally successful gallery owner, but she might be its most satisfied.

"A lot of artists are too busy to sell themselves, but I've gotten to a place as an artist and a gallery owner where I love it," she says.

"I find her to be very industrious and creative," says Johnsville, Md., painter Janet Dowda, whose paintings have adorned the walls of the gallery for more than 16 years. "She has a flair that most people don't have that makes things very attractive. I'm always excited to have her call me to be in a show because she really has a unique style."

Tatiana and her gallery "are such a treasure for us in Howard County," says Columbia resident Debbie Messer, a teacher in Howard public schools. "No one comes close to the same quality that she has, the same attention to detail. It's really a pleasure to have someplace to shop for special occasions besides a mall."

"What's great about her place is that it's a really romantic spot," says Baltimore jeweler and goldsmith Lauren Schott. "I love going out there in the spring when the trees are blooming. I've even had picnics in the graveyard" on the church's back lot.

Schott acknowledges being "amazed by how many people know about the gallery, considering that she lives in the real boonies, but there's nothing like it anywhere. It's just very special."

While growing up on Long Island, Tatiana often would take the train into Manhattan as a teen-ager to visit museums and galleries. After getting an undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Arizona, she married and moved to Seattle, where she played and taught the cello.

But it wasn't until she moved to Columbia in 1972 that she could concentrate solely on her lifelong passion: ceramics.

Though she performed publicly in Columbia for many years as one-fourth of a classical quartet, Tatiana says, her heart "was always in the art world, and I always knew in the back of my head somewhere that I would give up music. I stopped playing and now I don't pick the thing up [cello] because I don't think I could stand myself. I just can't even go there."

Purchased for $30,000, the former church offered better space and lighting. A small shack for a kiln was added to the back yard.

These days, Tatiana spends nearly 12 hours a day working on her pottery and on the gallery. While she will admit that she works hard and that her gallery has been more successful than most, she is quick to share the credit with her current husband, Joe Seelinger, a federal government employee.

"I could never have done what I'm doing without help," Tatiana says emphatically. "I always have these quasi-feminists who come in and say `Oh, isn't this fabulous? She did this all herself!' And I go, `Oh no, no, no.' I'd have been temping if it weren't for my husbands, who were always so supportive.

"There are only a few artists who are able to support themselves solely from sales of their artwork," she adds. "But that's always the case everywhere.

"I think I'm an optimist by nature," she says. "In fact, I think this is really going to be my year. I'd like to be one of those handful of artists whose name everyone knows."

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