The brewing galleries

Coffeehouses: Many are turning over their walls to local artists eager to display their work.

June 15, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Mocha and Matisse.

Well, not quite. But in the metro region, art has found a home in coffee shops, offering local artists more venues for their work while exposing customers to a different kind of scenery.

"The response to it has been really, really strong," said John Read, who recently made space for artwork in his Old Mill Bakery Cafe in Ellicott City. "I had some art up before, but they were mostly reproductions. This is much better."

Nowhere in Howard County is the marriage between art and coffeehouses more evident than in Ellicott City.

From the maritime photos by R. Ben Dawson that grace the walls of the Riverside Roastery & Espresso to the tabletops painted by Chapel Gate Christian Academy students at the Jahva House, art is thriving in the historic district.

Kristine Potler, owner of the Jahva House, said she and her husband, Devon, feature artwork on the three floors of their establishment. Having pieces for sale was part of their business plan when they opened a year ago, she said.

"Most of the time, we will have work from local artists or artists who have never shown before," Kristine Potler said. "We like to give opportunity to new artists."

She said that the cafe showcased artwork last month by high school students and that a silent auction is being planned with the proceeds going to student art programs. A coffee shop offers a more relaxed atmosphere conducive to enjoying art, she said.

"It's not nearly as stuffy as a gallery or museum," said Potler, who added that she is looking for more artists to feature in her store. "It kind of brings the art to them and helps people develop a greater appreciation for it."

Angela Wyckoff works at Jahva House and is showing some of her oils and media-on-canvas pieces there. The 25-year-old artist said she appreciates the feedback she gets from customers.

"The people that tend to come in here are very supportive of the arts," Wyckoff said. "It's really nice to get the positive response. As an artist, it keeps you going."

At the Old Mill Bakery Cafe, customers flow in to the soothing sounds of mellow music and are immediately faced with the vibrant colors in Kate Forsyth's paintings. Sandwiched between the croissants and the machines pumping steaming cups of Hazelnut Cream and Sumatra Mandheling, the orange, red and purple of Forsyth's "Death Lodge" painting beg to be noticed.

Read said it was artists like Forsyth who prompted him to begin displaying artwork at the cafe, which is a hub for residents who come as much to visit with Read and his staff as they do to indulge in pastries and beverages.

"You have this large gathering of artists here in the Oella Mill, and most of them stop in here," Read said. "I had been kind of ribbing them and teasing them to get me some art to put up on the walls."

One who took him up on his offer was Forsyth, who lives in Oella and often walks to the cafe for breakfast. She said she recently began painting again, inspired by taking a "vision quest" to a desert called the Canyon Lands of Utah.

She has nine pieces on display, and showing at the Old Mill is like "sharing with friends," she said.

"When you show your work, it's very personal, like putting your heart out there," said Forsyth, who also has studio space at the Oella Mill. "When people come into a coffee shop, it's much more intimate and a lot less critical and scary. I'm more secure here."

In Annapolis, Brian Cahalan is booked three years in advance for his monthly art showings that include wine and food. Cahalan, owner of 49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar and Gallery, said he and the artists benefit.

"It changes the appearance of the place every month, and every artist has a clientele that comes for the showings," said Cahalan, who opened his business almost five years ago. "I take 30 percent [of the artwork sales], and I know that some galleries take 50 or 60 percent, so it's a break for the artist, and it puts a little money in my pocket."

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