Faces of the Arts: South Street Art Gallery Guild
Mar 27, 2015 03:00PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
This group extraordinaire of regional artists shares more than talent aloneBy Kathi Ferguson // Photography by Larry French
The wooden artist’s palette mounted just outside the door of Easton’s South Street Art Gallery cannot help but pique one’s interest as to what awaits inside. Upon entering, visitors are instantly captivated by a myriad of beautiful paintings that have been tastefully hung throughout this historic Victorian structure. Each room reflects its own personality, joining together a harmonious collection of plein air and landscape paintings, portrait, still life, wildlife, marine, and figurative works created in a variety of mediums. Often referred to as “The House Filled with Fine Art,” South Street Art Gallery is a mainstay of the area’s growing and evolving art mecca, drawing art lovers and collectors from across the country.
Easton residents Carl and Nancy Tankersley purchased the gallery in 2004. A well-known and successful painter herself, Nancy has been displaying her work alongside other artists at South Street since it originally opened more than ten years ago. While sales had remained steady since the Tankersleys took the helm, as with many businesses today, running a profitable gallery was becoming increasingly challenging. “The trend in marketing and selling art was changing and we needed to remain in the forefront,” Nancy explains. “Carl and I decided it was time to look at our options and find a business model that would be a win-win for both the gallery and the artists.” South Street Art Gallery—A Guild of Fine Artists was formed in June of 2012.
The artist’s guild first made its appearance during the late Renaissance, at a time when painting began to be considered a humanistic discipline. Since there were no galleries then, artists, artisans, and craftspeople joined together for mutual support and to create and uphold standards for their work. The guild of today maintains a similar philosophy in that the artist is able to take control of their own work without being under the constraint of gallery regulations. Each member is responsible for their “show,” fulfilling his or her role as host, and is free to change the display as often as they choose. In a traditional gallery, work that is not selling often remains on the walls for a much longer period of time. “I love that we can choose what pieces we hang and how we hang them,” says guild artist Lani Browning. “It is a more cohesive way to view the art, allowing each of the rooms at South Street to offer a personal vision of that particular artist.”
A total of 14 member artists form the guild at South Street Art Gallery, each offering their own style, medium, and choice of subject. All are committed professionals who share in the gallery’s business operations, possess a strong history of sales both locally and out of the area, and live in the Mid-Atlantic region. Equally important is the respect for, and support of, one another’s artistic journey.
Wildlife artist Matthew Hillier and his wife, artist Julia Rogers of Tunis Mills, have been guild members since its inception. “It is an honor to be a part of this group of professionals,” Hillier says. “One of the unique things that I think unifies us is the passion we all have for the Eastern Shore,” Rogers adds, “I have been very encouraged by the sense of camaraderie. So often, artists are isolated simply because of the nature of our work. The guild provides the opportunity to be more interactive and supportive of one another.” Other guild members are: Nancy Tankersley; Ed Cooper of Berryville, Virginia; Annapolis artists Tim Bell and Barabara Nuss; Lani Browning of Centreville; Hai-Ou Hou of Stevensville; Sara Linda Poly of Easton; Jill Basham of Trappe; Lisa Mitchell of Sparks; Lisa Egeli of Churchton; Mary Pritchard of Chestertown; and Debra Howard of Crisfield.
Works are exhibited in one of eight distinct display areas and shows rotate every two months. Display rooms vary in size, with the main gallery (or salon) on the first floor being designated solely to the featured artist or artists. Some guild members, such as Lani Browning and Sara Linda Poly, or Hai-Ou Hou and Mary Pritchard, share their space and exhibit jointly. “As a pastel artist in the midst of oil painters, I know that my medium, framing, and presentation are different from the rest of the group,” Pritchard says. “But I enjoy the challenge of installing my work in the allocated space each month and it is always exciting to see what the other artists are hanging. Many of our visitors specifically mention the visual energy created by the mix of artists and the way each artist curates his or her own space."
Non-member artists might also be invited to exhibit, bringing a whole new dynamic to the show. For example, the exhibit entitled “Table for Two” highlighted works by featured artist Nancy Tankersley and guest artist sculptor Jan Kirsh during September and October last year. “My genre paintings of various restaurant settings and Jan’s vibrant fruit and vegetable pieces were the perfect complement for each other,” Tankersley says. “It was a huge success.”
South Street artists are known to extend their talent and supportive spirit beyond the gallery by hosting innovative special events throughout the year such as painting demonstrations, receptions, and participating in Easton’s First Friday Gallery Walks. “Last summer the Guild staged a great event during Plein Air Easton when we hired a model and borrowed a vintage car that we parked on the corner lot next to the gallery and invited artists to paint the scene,” says artist Ed Cooper. “Not only did we bring in some top tier competition painters, but we attracted quite a crowd!” Guild members have also hosted events from which a portion of the proceeds went to organizations such as The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy for their efforts to renovate Easton’s McCord Building, and to the City of Crisfield after Hurricane Sandy.
The guild has also benefited by participating in several profitable commissions. Perhaps one of the most interesting was when a local collector sought the group’s help in order to fulfill his vision for his large, in-home gallery space. “Consequently, when the collector began to seek artists to do the paintings, the guild decided to establish bidding guidelines so that we would not be working against each other,” Tankersley explains. “At the end of the day, there were multiple commissions awarded to half of the guild members and the project was featured in a national arts magazine last November.”
A unique synergy is required to nourish the spirit of a guild such as South Street as well as to maintain its success. Meetings are held frequently throughout the year when members not only find new inspiration, but can share their ideas for moving forward—and painting together is often on the agenda. During a retreat this past fall, the group decided to establish itself as a stand-alone organization, electing officers, writing by-laws, and crafting a mission statement, in order to continue to thrive while adjusting nimbly to the changing marketplace. Until then, the guild at South Street had been a hybrid of an artists’ co-op and a privately-owned gallery.
Additionally, when the guild started, the artists took turns tending the gallery, but it soon became evident that it would be more advantageous to have the same person there all the time. Gallery consultant Gail Clark-Brodt was brought on board shortly thereafter. “Gail is a real asset to the guild,” says marine and landscape painter Mary Ekroos. “Her knowledge and insight ensures the gallery’s reputation for friendly and reliable service.” Other changes include online sales through the gallery web site and the hiring of a social media consultant in order to reach younger buyers.
The Tankersleys are convinced that establishing South Street Gallery—Guild of Fine Artists has brought new energy to the gallery and the community by consistently offering interesting, quality art that will benefit all of its members and collectors. “The guild at South Street Art Gallery occupies a unique place in the local arts community,” notes collector Susan Chaires. “There is an offering of excellent artists, each representing in their works their passions and own unique styles which are bound to appeal to a wide variety of interests and aesthetic tastes.”
During a quiet moment, guild artist Lisa Mitchell finds it very comforting to walk through South Street Art Gallery and reflect on the beautiful paintings of fellow artists and study their work. “I see who they are in every stroke of paint; I see years of struggle and endless hours that have been spent at the easel in order to obtain the degree of skill that exists in their paintings today. And I see that we are relying on each other in supporting the guild for a cause that is deeper than just selling art. You can’t beat that!”
Everyone involved in this venture called South Street Art Gallery—A Guild of Fine Artists is on a creative journey, both individually and as an integral part of its success. It seems that this time-honored tradition has become new again and “The House Filled with Fine Art” will continue to live up to its reputation.