Gallery goal: artwork that is affordable

As Art & Artisan's owner looks for a mix of original and limited-edition works, she keeps her eye on the price tag


Karen Besson's new art gallery, tucked snugly into 300 square feet on Main Street in Ellicott City, doesn't have room to be intimidating.

But Besson says that is a good thing: Her goal at Art & Artisan is to be approachable for buyers who may not have big budgets or lots of art expertise.

"I want beginning collectors to feel like they can collect original and limited-edition artwork without breaking the bank," she said.

Besson's shop - hung floor to ceiling with paintings, drawings and photographs alongside cases of hand-crafted glass bowls, pewter utensils and jewelry - joins several art galleries in the historic district of Ellicott City that are relatively new or recently renovated.

Business owners say fine art is an important aspect of the historic district, known as a destination for boutiques, antiques stores and locally owned eating places.

Mat About You, on Old Columbia Pike, and Andrei Kushnir / Michele Taylor American Painting, on Main Street, opened in the past five years.

The Margaret Smith Gallery changed its name this year to Gallerie Elan and since 2002 has broadened its focus on animation to offer more contemporary fine art.

Along with established community members such as Sheppard Art Gallery, there are specialty shops that sell calligraphy, stained glass, prints and other artistic pieces. Several artists' studios also are open to buyers.

Galleries and studios "come and go," said Andrei Kushnir, "but it definitely is on the upswing."

Kushnir and Taylor opened their gallery in 2002 to sell their paintings and the work of several other artists who paint in an "old-school" style.

Kushnir said that Ellicott City's atmosphere is a good one for art galleries.

The local business association holds a fall art festival that features local artists and galleries. The county arts council encourages people to go to galleries with its annual Road to the Arts promotion.

On Dec. 2, the business association's Midnight Merriment event will offer music, family activities and a visit from Santa Claus to bring shoppers to the area.

Last year, several Ellicott City businesses worked together on Third Thursdays, during which patrons who visited local galleries received discounts on dinner. Several locations hope to revive the event in the future.

Tom Akins, owner of Gallerie Elan, said, "Art is a mainstay of the community, for sure."

He noted that the antiques and home-furnishing stores in the area also offer art. His three-story Main Street location has recently been renovated and offers a wide selection, from early-18th-century Russian Impressionists to contemporary works by nationally known artists to modern sculpture.

By targeting different niches in the art market, the galleries say they benefit from being near each other.

"I think that art galleries do better as a group," said Julian Manelli, who took over his father's art studio, which has been in Ellicott City since the 1970s. He started selling work by regional and local artists and just completed a two-year renovation.

"When people are looking for art, they want to look around," Manelli said. "[Buying] art is like, in some ways, dating. You go dating a lot of galleries, then you pick the one you're going to spend a lot of time with."

Besson's gallery is the latest addition to the scene. It opened in May.

After 13 years of experience working for nonprofit museums and for-profit galleries, Besson said "it's been great fun" to have a gallery. Besson, who is an artist, said she understands the time and effort that go into a work of art and the need for some artists to earn several thousand dollars for pieces.

But as she searches for an eclectic mix of original and limited-edition works by trained artists, she has her eye on the price tag.

"I've been a collector for a long time," said Besson, who lives in Ellicott City. She recalled times when she walked into galleries with what she considered to be a reasonable budget "and there was almost nothing there within my price range."

Besson said she plans to regularly bring in new collections and rotate others out. "I want to keep it fresh," she said.

And if her gallery catches on, she said, "I can pack even more into this place."

Art & Artisan is at 8020 Main St., Ellicott City. Phone: 410-203-9370. A list of other Ellicott City galleries and shops is online at www.visithowardcounty. com/shop/ellicott.html.

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