Story by Edna Troiano
Could your living room be more eye-appealing? Your dining room less bare? Nothing dresses up a home like a work of art, but deciding what to buy and where to buy it can be daunting. Let's assume you won't settle for a mass-produced reproduction from a big-box store; neither are you likely to bid on art at a Sotheby's auction. Fortunately, Southern Maryland offers plenty of options between those two extremes.
The catchphrase, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like," is intended to belittle the uninformed, but the first rule of buying a work of art is to be sure you actually like your purchase. After all, you're going to live with it in your home every day. You wouldn't buy an uncomfortable sofa to impress others. And the argument that a piece you may not like will skyrocket in value … well, that's like thinking a lottery ticket is a sound investment. Secondly, think about your interests and preferences. A gardener, for example, may be drawn to botanical prints or landscapes, a film buff to classic movie posters. There's no inherent right or wrong in your choices. And third: Don't rush. If you take your time, visit galleries, go to art shows, and speak with artists, you'll discover a range of possibilities and make an informed choice.
Galleries are a good beginning point because you'll be exposed to a variety of artists and types of art. Gallery Jamel in Waldorf offers works by local and international artists. As owner Helen Farmer explains, the staff can lead you through the basics - for example, the differences among an original work, a signed print, and a signed and numbered print. Once you've made a selection, they can also advise you on framing. Stacey Hann-Ruff, director of Annmarie Garden in Solomons, recommends Annmarie as a good place to shop for art, not only because of its shows, but also its special events. For example, September's Artsfest features 150 artists and attracts about 15,000 people. You might also want to check out Leonardtown's North End Gallery, which showcases art, jewelry and crafts by as many as 35 artists.
In addition to commercial galleries, you'll find art at college galleries featuring faculty, students, and regionally- and nationally-acclaimed artists. The Boyden Gallery at St. Mary's College and the Hungerford Gallery at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) both host several exhibits a year. Susan Chappelear, a ceramicist at the CSM, reminds would-be buyers not to overlook talented students and emerging artists; their works may be excellent and their prices affordable.
Suppose you discover an artist who appeals to you, but you don't want to purchase one of the works on display. Chappelear says you can contact the artist directly; some will sell to you at a discount, while other seasoned artists may be unwilling to undersell the gallery that represents them. You can also ask if the artist accepts commissions. Many, including Chappelear and her painter husband, Larry, do. Commissions allow you to confer with an artist to create something that meets your needs.
If you find a work of art you like, but are still unsure about making the purchase, ask the gallery or artist to bring the work to your home before you make a final decision. Like all merchants, artists and galleries want you to be satisfied with your purchase, so many are willing to come to you.
Finally, remember that not all art fits into frames. In addition to paintings, prints and photographs, consider ceramics, glass and sculptures. Decide on your price range and review all the options, and you'll be able to turn your ho-hum house into a showpiece.
To help you find that perfect work of art, here's a list of galleries in the local area:
Mattawoman Creek Art Center, Smallwood State Park, 5565 Upham Pl., Marbury; 301-743-5159; www.mattawomanart.org
St. Mary's County
Don't forget our local college galleries and museums when you're shopping for art. You might also consider visiting individual artists' studios (check the Southern Maryland Trails guide at www.somdtrails.com
for locations), or stopping by Cecil's Country Store (www.cecilscountrystore.com
) to view the artwork of popular local artist Mary Lou Troutman.