Artists take time to celebrate

Columbia: A serious gallery is marking its 10th anniversary.

Fine Arts

Howard Live

Arts and entertainment in Howard County

August 05, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bonita Glaser, who helped found the Artists' Gallery 10 years ago, can tell you easily what this artist-owned cooperative is not.

It is not a craft show, she says. There are no quilts or whimsical paper-towel holders or photographs of pets for sale. And it is not for amateurs.

"We're a fine-art gallery," she says emphatically.

The gallery, in the American City Building on Wincopin Circle in Columbia, is run by the artists who are its members. And these artists are serious about what they do.

"This is not for the beginning artist," she says. "This is for the semiprofessional or professional artist."

Now, those artists are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Artists' Gallery with a wine-and-food reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today.

Featured guests will be artists Maureen Bannon and Rhona Schonwald, who were key in making the gallery what it is today. Their art, as well as the work of about 20 gallery members, will be on display and for sale.

Shonwald's work tends to be on large canvases, with vibrant colors and bold shapes. Bannon uses oils to create local scenes with no hard edges but a great deal of attention to shapes and the play of light.

Shonwald and Gary Marathon were on the board of directors when the gallery was in the form of juried shows, Glaser said. "They set a high standard, and that made people who are pros, or want to be pros, strive to get in."

And it was Bannon who originally had the idea of leasing space in the American City Building to display and sell art, Glaser said. Starting in 1993, the exhibition used a juried format, meaning works were submitted for approval each month, and the best ones were chosen for display.

"We had professionals from D.C. and Baltimore be the jury," said Glaser, who serves as the gallery's historian.

In 1995, the Rouse Co., which owned the building, was reconfiguring the space, and the artists who had been leasing it month to month could no longer afford it. They were packing up when James W. Rouse, Columbia's founder, came in, Glaser said, "and said, `What do I have to do to keep art in the lobby of this building?' "

The gallery was given a smaller space and a less expensive lease. It also made the transition from a juried exhibit space to an artist-owned co-op. The first show under the new format was held in June.

Here is how the gallery works:

To join, a potential member must submit a resume, several samples of his or her work and a "statement" to the existing members, who decide whether this artist is good enough to be included. Only about half are accepted, Glaser said.

"We're looking for people who are doing more than just the standard," Glaser said.

Sometimes the discussion gets heated, Glaser said, but usually, the group acknowledges that "there's either a splash of creativity there or there isn't. ... This is the place you come, and the next step you're represented by an agent," Glaser said.

Once a member is accepted, he or she agrees to work at the gallery for two or three shifts a month. The artist exhibits one or two pieces of artwork each month and is featured in a more extensive show on a less regular basis, perhaps every two years.

If an item is sold, the gallery gets 20 percent - substantially less than a commercial gallery, said Pat Roberie, a member of the Artists' Gallery. The artist must then replace the piece that was sold.

"It's a little space, but it's incredible what we pack in there," said Roberie, who is also on the hanging committee, which arranges the pieces that are dropped off by the artists each month.

The gallery has about 20 active members. Most, but not all, live in Howard County. Dues are $120 a year and $30 a month for hanging the work, Roberie said.

Roberie, who joined in 1996, said she likes being part of the gallery because art can be a lonely profession.

"It's a good way to communicate with other artists," she said. And, she said, the demand to fill a space with new work each month forces her to keep working, even on days when she doesn't quite feel like it.

Nancy Davis of Clarksville is the most recent member to join, about two months ago. She paints scenes of nature, what she calls the "disappearing landscape," and she says she enjoys associating with other artists and talking with gallery visitors.

For years, she had been thinking about applying, but she was afraid she would be rejected. Finally, she took the plunge, and she was called later that night with the good news that she had been accepted.

"I do remember getting that call," she said. The president at the time, Kelmie Snider (Paul Marycz has since taken the job), "said, `welcome to the gallery,' and I was thrilled."

Artists' Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, as well as by appointment. Information: 410-740-8249.

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