In Harford County, local art takes center stage in unexpected spots

For Harford Magazine

Every couple of months, the art in Peggy Leary’s dental office in Bel Air rotates and a new exhibit adorns the walls.

She never knows what to expect when the new art comes in, but it’s one of her favorite days in the office.

“We always run out to see the new art and it’s always a nice surprise,” Leary says.

Her office is one of close to a dozen local businesses that display artwork through a Harford Artists’ Association program, part of a larger local effort to help reach an audience that may not typically travel to art galleries. Whether hosting fitness events in a gallery, creating public installations or bringing art to unexpected locations, members of the Harford County community are working to bring art front and center.

At Leary’s office, the smattering of still life, landscape and floral paintings and drawings adds interest to an otherwise plain space.

“When I got started, I had a new office, and I had no artwork on the walls,” Leary says. “So we talked with the Harford Artists’ Association, and now we have a unique space in our reception area that gives the patients something to talk about.”

That’s the intention, according to the association’s publicity chair, Alexandra Kopp.

“Doing these off-site exhibits helps to build community and helps people to see things in different ways,” she says.

Kopp, who paints in an impressionistic style, has had her work displayed at Pairings Bistro, Upper Chesapeake Orthopedic Services, the Town of Bel Air offices and the William N. McFaul Activities Center.

“It’s very fulfilling because you get to share your art with other people who are out to eat or waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and you get to bring them into your world for a minute,” she says

Kopp chooses pieces to display based on the atmosphere at each location. At Pairings Bistro, for instance, she displayed still-life paintings and country landscapes to complement the resta;urant decor, while she chose local scenes for the Town of Bel Air Department of Public Works.

“At the other locations I select paintings that have a serene feel to them, especially for the medical offices,” she says.

At Independent Brewing Co., much of the art follows an industrial theme, with images of trucks and cars to match the brewery’s location in an old garage. Paintings of a 1920s-era gas pump and of a Jeep by Louanne Van Fossen are among those that were displayed and subsequently sold. But another room at the brewery displays art of all kinds.

“In the secondary room we have floral, keepsakes, watercolors, oils and acrylics,” says Van Fossen, coordinator for the Harford Artists’ Association rotating exhibits. “Anything goes in that room.”

And there are incentives for association members to take part in the off-site exhibits. Those who display their art in the Harford Artists’ Association gallery at on Bel Air’s North Main Street must volunteer for 14 hours every two months, but off-site exhibits don’t require the same time commitment. In addition, member artists can simply drop off their work when the association calls for it.

“It’s a great balance,” said Patricia Stonesifer, the association’s membership chairman and a watercolor and oil painter who specializes in portraits. Her art has also appeared at Independent Brewing Co. in Bel Air. “It’s really great to visit these places and see your art hanging up on the wall.”

The drop-off process can even build new relationships among artists and community members.

Nicole Sanza, a dental assistant and the organizer for the paintings at Lifetime Dental Care in Bel Air, says she’s usually the only one in the office on Fridays when the new art comes into the space. She gets a sneak peek at the newest “gallery” in the reception area and often gets face time with the artists.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the artists themselves when we do our exchanges,” Sanza said. “It’s really great to get to be able to talk to them about their visions and see the different types of art and artwork that’s being produced locally.”

For Jon Kohler, owner of Pairings Bistro in Bel Air, the art goes along with the mission of his restaurant.

“We utilize a lot of local farms in our food, and this partnership is another way we can ensure that we’re truly keeping things local,” Kohler said.

He says that the art complements the food and drinks they serve.

It’s a business as well. He said that customers purchase the paintings hanging on their walls, meaning that they’re supporting both local food and the local art community.

He says they see about two paintings sell each month. Prices vary depending on size and subject matter, from as little as $50 to as much as $1,000.

“We are in the art business ourselves,” said Kolher. “It just happens to be food. We feel like we’re part of that. We’re in the culinary arts field, so being able to create something and share it with guests is a big connection that we share with the artists that display their art on our walls.”

But even if residents don’t venture into local businesses, they’ll still get a taste of Harford County’s art scene. Bel Air, a designated Arts & Entertainment District through the Maryland State Arts Council (along with Havre de Grace), offers a number of public murals and sculptures. Among them: a past-and-present mural of downtown Bel Air by Marshall Adams that welcomes visitors, an abstract, three-pronged sculpture that marks Tollgate Marketplace, and a distinctive geometric sculpture called “Gateway,” on which restoration began earlier this year at the Tollgate Road entrance to the Ma & Pa Trail.

Still, art galleries are not forgotten.

The Maryland Center for the Arts looks to bring the fitness-minded to periodic yoga and Pilates classes inside Ken Karlic’s art gallery on Bel Air’s Main Street.

“Ken’s colorful landscape paintings facilitate a sense of inner peace, energy, movement and life, and Pilates and yoga practice is enhanced by this visual stimuli,” said Amanda Pugh, manager of marketing and development for the Maryland Center for the Arts.

She says that the wooden floors, neutral walls and bright, warm lighting make the atmosphere an ideal place for marrying yoga and Pilates with visual art.

“The simplicity of Ken’s gallery design makes it an ideal environment for quieting the mind and focusing on one’s mind and body connection through Pilates and yoga poses,” Pugh said.

Though Karlic, whose gallery displays his own work alongside others’ art, says the events haven’t had a quantifiable effect on business, but that they’re more about raising awareness.

It’s a sentiment echoed by artists across the board; visibility is half the battle.

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