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Marking 25 years of art, tenacity

The Baltimore Sun

In a part of Annapolis that has been described as the local equivalent of London's Bond Street because of its first-rate galleries, Aurora Gallery lends its own distinctive mystique.

Known for its eclectic mix of paintings, original prints and fine crafts, Aurora Gallery shows the work of more than 100 artists, having expanded over the years to encompass a number of American artists working in clay, glass and hand-painted silks along with exciting works in oils and watercolors, original prints, one-of-a-kind crafts and handmade jewelry.

It has been marking its 25th anniversary of bringing affordable, original art to the state capital with an exhibit of enchanting sea glass, gorgeous art deco and modern hand-made jewelry in semi-precious metals and stones, and Ann Bradshaw's enchanting summer cottages, seascapes and blooming flowers.

The high point of the celebration will be an anniversary celebration featuring champagne and the gallery's founders from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the gallery, 67 Maryland Ave.

Marking 25 years in the art business requires equal parts talent and luck plus vision, tenacity, practicality, hard work and an understanding of local tastes. Four artists opened Aurora in July 1983: Catherine Frisch and Myra Sides Copus were and are painters. Jean Ulmer Opilla has a background in sculpture and crafts and taught art in Anne Arundel County for 33 years. Dorothy Vanous was a print maker, specifically of silk screens.

Sides left the gallery in the second year because she didn't have enough time to devote to her art. Vanous died in 1987. Frisch and Opilla co-owned the gallery until 2004, when Opilla became the sole proprietor.

Believing that the gallery should hold a mix of artworks and be a friendly, non-intimidating place for non-connoisseur collectors, Opilla makes certain that anyone entering the shop can find something of artistic merit, no matter how meager the budget.

"Art should be inspiring, beautiful and also fun," she said. "We try to put a touch of whimsy here because people need to smile as they sometimes do at my soft sculpture benign iguana."

Opilla's fabric sculptures fascinate and charm the viewer whether in the form of a life-like woodpecker perched high on a branch or an aqua-toned crane or a wall-mounted lizard whose form was dictated by the elegant paisley fabric encasing him.

Opilla has a major interest in three-dimensional art and since 1973 has concentrated on creating soft sculpture. Animals are a favorite subject because, she said, "They lend themselves to texture, color and whimsy." Many of her sculptures are larger than life, but recently she has been scaling down her work into intimate portrayals.

Frisch and Copus are also featured in this anniversary exhibition.

Having lived, studied and exhibited in Maryland for the last 40 years, Frisch is best known for her love of bold color which she applies in watercolors, acrylic and oil pastels to express a soaring freedom. Copus, a longtime Annapolis resident, paints nature vibrantly alive in her spontaneous brush work in watercolors and oils that often seem to be layered in transparent jewel tones. Her paintings are washes of light and color laced with texture and intricate calligraphic detail.

Anyone who appreciates fine workmanship and beauty should celebrate Aurora's success and perhaps find something to bring a smile for as little as $5 for a magnet or spend a little more to acquire a whimsical sculpted mermaid hanging ornament or a ceramic plate. Museum quality art is available for less than $6,000, the top price.

The anniversary exhibition continues through July 31. Aurora Gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Information:

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