Customers can't help but smile when they walk into the Margaret Smith Gallery in Ellicott City. There, tucked among the watercolors and etchings, are several pieces of animation art - from hand-painted limited editions to production cels. As the only Disney-preferred gallery in Maryland, Smith said, her inventory often transports customers back to their youth.
"People love it," Smith said. "We get people from the tri-state area who will drive here. And then through our Web site, we have customers nationwide."
Opened in 1987, the business has steadily built its reputation as an eclectic gallery. It was her clients, Smith said, who encouraged her to start carrying animation art several years ago.
"We started with studios like Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera," Smith said. "Disney was the last holdout."
Jennifer Harlan, Southeast regional sales manager for the Walt Disney Animation Art division of Walt Disney Art Classics, said galleries often apply to be Disney-preferred galleries. The designation allows the gallery to sell Disney art, Harlan said.
"We pick the best galleries in the region based on their knowledge of the industry, their knowledge of animation and how they treat their customers," she said. "We have a contract with every gallery to ensure that they are going to promote the Disney name in a way in which we feel is appropriate."
Harlan said the Smith gallery was ideal because of its location on Ellicott City's Main Street, its selection and Smith's relationship with her clients.
"She knows her customers like she knows her best friends," Harlan said. "Her gallery is adorable and she carries a nice variety of fine art."
Smith's gallery is one of only about 100 Disney-preferred galleries nationwide. It carries what are known as production cels, which have been used in creating an animated production.
In a cel, the animator's drawings are transferred onto transparent acetate sheets, and the character's colors are painted on the reverse side. When filmed in succession, those cels create the illusion of movement.
The gallery also carries serials, which are fine art limited-edition cels created by screening the colors - one at a time- of an image onto the back of an acetate cell. On each of the gallery's three floors, various cels - ranging from Batman to Schoolhouse Rock characters - battle for wall space with more traditional art.
"It's a real draw for customers that wouldn't ordinarily come in," said Alice Webb, an artist who displays her etchings and watercolors at the gallery. "I think it makes people feel more comfortable because galleries sometimes intimidate people."
Smith also is hot for events tied to animated art. Last year Mary Costa, an opera singer and the voice of Princess Aurora/Briar Rose in Disney's "Sleeping Beauty," appeared at the gallery.
Art from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" went on display this month in time to coincide with the performance of Kathleen Turner in "Tallulah" at the Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore. Turner was the voice of Jessica Rabbit in "Roger Rabbit."
Smith, whose gallery also was host to actors who were the voices of the Little Mermaid and Cinderella, said that along with the fun of selling the animation art, it also gives her flexibility.
"What it does is: It keeps my doors open and allows me to show other artists who may not be as well known," she said.