Artwalk reveals Ellicott City's hidden artists

Past the boutiques and restaurants on Main Street in Ellicott City, it would be easy to miss Dee Cunningham's painting studio. The skate shop that shows art and the metal sculptor get overlooked, too.

There’s a ceramic artist, a jewelry maker, a photographer, a specialty car painter and more than a dozen others.  So Cunningham created an event to highlight the hidden art scene in the former mill town. 
Artwalk will take place Oct. 11, with 21 galleries and studios showing work.
“We didn’t even know we were all here,” says Cunningham, who has helped form a coalition of the artists and art businesses. “It’s been fun getting to know each other.”
It may surprise people how many artists work in the area, says Debra Korb, executive director for the Ellicott City Historic District Partnership. “There are little pockets. And there’s art in places you might not expect to see it.”
The Good Roll Skate Shop and Bean Hollow, the coffee shop, for example, both show art.
And just up the hill from the boutiques and restaurants, there’s an enclave of artists with a range of skills, from Cunningham, who specializes in decorative painting and faux finishes, to Bill Knapp, a found-object sculptor.
“We’re trying to bring awareness to the artists working in and around this area,” says Cunningham.
In 2013, Artwalk’s first year, the event was held during Ellicott City’s Fall Festival. Now in its second year, it’s a stand-alone event — a series of open houses of studios and spaces that are not always open to the public. Some artists will demonstrate their work, and there will be raffle prizes for those who visit multiple studios. A shuttle will be available to transport event goers to and from opposite ends of Main Street.

We talked with just a few of the artists participating in this year's event.


Kay Sandler, Watercolors

A real estate title company is one of Ellicott City's surprising venues for art.


"We're not an art gallery as such," says Sandler, who divides her time between practicing law and painting.

But when clients comment on the paintings on the walls of their Ellicott City office, Sandler's husband and business partner surprises them with the news that they're originals.

"Because people are buying homes, we sometimes sell pieces right off the walls," Sandler says.

She and her husband have been in the title company business for 25 years and bought their Main Street building last spring.


"I went to law school and didn't even consider art," says Sandler, who took a year off from her law practice to attend Maryland Institute College of Art and study with other artists.

Sandler works in pastels, acrylics and watercolors and also shows some of her work at competitions and local galleries, including Still Life on Main Street.

She specializes in commissioned pet portraits and large close-ups of flowers.

"You gravitate toward what moves you," Sandler says.

Barry Sheehan, Metal N Motion 

A Maryland native and Towson University-trained blacksmith, Sheehan opened his studio, Metal N Motion, on Frederick Road in Ellicott City last year.

He'd spent the last 18 years in Colorado, specializing in architectural pieces such as custom staircases and fireplaces.

His return to Ellicott City has meant a return to his artistic roots -- Sheehan specializes in figurative sculptures, made from pieces of steel or copper.

"Maryland is home," says Sheehan. "It's a better place for contemporary art."

His process relies on traditional black-smithing skills of heating and hammering.

While his work was once very detailed, Sheehan is now leaving more to the viewer's imagination. "I want them to fill in the gaps," he says.

Showing his sculptures to the public -- and not just the "art elite"-- is important to Sheehan, who has been showing his sculptures at tent shows such as Artscape.

"It's part of sharing your work," he says.

Sara Arditti, Still Life Art Gallery

Before she bought the gallery with her husband, David Dempster, two years ago, Sara Arditti had an imaginary gallery.

"We'd go to museums and galleries and pick out which pieces we'd want if we owned a gallery," says Arditti, who has dabbled in a variety of art, including painting, drawing, cartooning and book illustrations.

After a year in Paris and stints in the Middle East and Washington, D.C., with her husband's job in construction management, the couple ended up in Howard County.

Their gallery showcases only regional and local artists. "There's so much talent in the Mid-Atlantic area," says Arditti. "I don't have to go elsewhere."

She also operates a custom framing shop in the space, specializing in fragile and challenging pieces, and sells jewelry, favoring artistic pieces, especially the steampunk style.

During the Artwalk event, a watercolor artist, Deanna Williford, will be painting in Still Life Art Gallery.

"This event has so much potential," says Arditti. "I'd like Main Street to become an art destination."

Laurie L. Hansen, Fine Art

Hansen has a studio in the cluster of artists that make up the "west end" of Frederick Road (Main Street) past Rogers Avenue.

Last year, about 120 people visited her studio during the Artwalk event, she says, noting "it was good exposure."

She's particularly pleased to have found the other artists working nearby.

"I love the energy. It's very inspiring," says Hansen, a Minnesota native. "I was feeling very isolated."

Hansen, who trained at a fine arts school in Minneapolis, describes her own painting as "evolving," with figurative landscapes and portraits.

She favors larger works and has developed a niche of hollow-core doors and clouds.

Although she's a full-time artist, there aren't too many shoppers who happen to pass by. Hansen says she looks forward to the Artwalk event. "I'm always happy to show my studio," she says.

Dee Cunningham, Deelite Design

A former high school art teacher, Cunningham moved her studio from her Windsor Mill basement to Frederick Road in September 2012.

Since then, she's been "trying to get people to know about us down on Main Street," she says.

Cunningham, founder of Deelite Design, modeled the first Artwalk event after one in Michigan. "It's a hybrid between that and Artscape," she says.

While the event capitalized on the foot traffic from the Fall Festival last year, the artists decided to hold it this year on a weekend when there weren't other local activities, Cunningham says.

"We're hoping to bring people into town who are art lovers," says Cunningham, who also organizes occasional art shows and gallery openings.

In addition to her community efforts, Cunningham has a busy studio, working on murals, faux finishes, decorative painting, trompe l'oeil and custom art.

"She's a breath of fresh air," says Korb. "She has such a vision for bringing together the art community. ... She's really connected the dots."

If you go:

What: Artwalk

When: Oct. 11, noon to 6 p.m.

Where: A trolley will take event goers from “lower” Main Street to the west end of Main Street, where it becomes Frederick Road.


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