Growing Elkton's art districtJun 10, 2015 09:23AM ● By J. Chambless
From left: Ki Crittenden, Carol Mangano and Kimie Ranken are co-owners of The Gallery at 122 Main in Elkton.
By John Chambless
“Elkton is ready to support an arts community,” said Kimie Ranken, co-owner of The Gallery at 122 Main, standing inside the warm, inviting exhibition space that opened late last year.
Combined with The Palette & The Page and the framing shop Picture it Framed, as well as Minihane's Restaurant, the little art district has everything it needs to be a draw for buyers and browsers. But it might not have happened at all without some lucky timing.
Last fall, Ranken hadn't even met clay artist Ki Crittenden and painter Carol Mangano when she heard that the former florist shop and site of Belle Connell’s Emporium at 122 E. Main Street in Elkton was vacant. Patti Paulus, the co-owner of the nearby Palette & The Page, told her about it.
“I was on her email distribution list when she said the store next door to her was available. Four people out of that whole list spoke up, and it ended up being the three of us. And here we are,” said Ranken, whose distinctive fine silver jewelry is featured at the gallery.
Crittenden, whose lit-from-within clay sculptures are well known locally, said that, “It's been a longtime dream of mine. I wanted to have a gallery with a coffee shop, because my daughter is in culinary arts school right now. I thought I would combine her dream and my dream. So we're starting here.”
Mangano, a lifelong artist who teaches art at the Rising Sun Middle School, “had always talked about opening a business like this, but I'm working full-time and there was no time for another business,” she said. “When we got the emails, I said 'No, I can't possibly do this.' Then there was all kinds of activity on the emails, and I thought, 'OK, let's just meet and see what happens.'”
The three women met at a restaurant on Oct. 17, without knowing what each other looked like. “I got there a few minutes early to see who was looking around," Mangano said. "Ki came in and I thought, 'I hope she's one of the people I'm supposed to be meeting.'"
Ultimately, the three busy women figured out that if they split the hours at the shop by taking turns, they could make the gallery a reality. They each contributed part of the purchase price, and the new space was opened on Dec. 5 of last year.
That was also the opening night of Ranken's show at the Palette and The Page next door, “so I was running between the two places,” she said, laughing.
The two galleries are closely linked and on friendly terms, she said. “They offered their help and guidance, and looking at their success over five years, we thought Elkton was ready. Besides, it was all Patti's idea.”
If anything, the more galleries, the stronger the attraction to buyers. The new art zone in Elkton is a busy place on First Fridays, Ranken said. Opening during the holiday shopping season last year was lucky, and she was happy to see customers going from shop to shop with bags from each gallery. That's the kind of synergy that makes a downtown district come to life.
As the former executive director of the Cecil Arts Council, Mangano has plenty of experience in working with artists and business owners. Ranken has years of property management experience, and Crittenden has five degrees from Korea and has run her own art sales for 30 years. Together, the three women are figuring out how to network and promote a business they love.
“We'll push the boundaries a bit,” Mangano said of the gallery's selection of guest artists. The Elkton area is ideally suited to draw visitors from nearby Havre de Grace, and it's not too far from the urban energy of Philadelphia. It sits only about five minutes from I-95. The relaxed pace of downtown Elkton makes it a great walking destination – and the parking's free.
The clay school and studio Art Space on Main is just down the street. The Palette and The Page has been open for five years, “and this has been an arts and entertainment district for 10 years now," Ranken said. "That was part of why we were interested. When they started the district, they were told that would take eight to 12 years." That means the time is just about right for Elkton.
During a tour of the gallery, Ranken pointed out the grassy back yard space, which could be turned into a place to display outdoor art, or hold informal concerts, classes and receptions. The basement is huge, and could be a secondary exhibition or performance space with a few minor upgrades.
Complementing the paintings, pottery and jewelry, as well as shows by guest artists, are artisan home goods. There are several varieties of culinary sea salts, Vermont maple syrup, and small-batch olive oils and honey from Greece.
"I'm really passionate about salts, and trying to get the word out to people to stop buying ordinary table salt because it doesn't give you what you need," Ranken said. "There are alternatives that people aren't familiar with. You can have a tasting here and find out what you like."
The three women laughed and said it was a good thing they weren't all painters, or all sculptors, before they decided to go into business together. The blend of their styles and mediums just happened to be a good fit, offering variety for shoppers and a well-defined asethetic in the gallery.
They have reached out to other downtown businesses and charity events, networking extensively with a community that is open to the arts. A back room at the gallery is ideal for workshops and classes for children and adults. Artist Carole Huber will conduct silk painting classes on July 12 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in conjunction with her show at the gallery in June and July. Mangano offers drawing, painting and collage workshops for young people in the summer.
"It's very quiet here on the weekends," Ranken said. "I don't think people are aware that we're here. There are good reasons to come here and just shop, plus all the other businesses here. There's things to do here that people aren't aware of -- yet."
For more information, visit www.TheGalleryAt122Main.com, or find it on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/ArtGallery122. The gallery is located at 122 E. Main St., Elkton, Md.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected]
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