Art for Everyone

BY LEAH RHYNE

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Mary Martin, owner of the Mary Martin Gallery in downtown Charleston, is convinced that everyone should build an art collection. To spread the word, she’s launched a 2-year campaign that she hopes will connect individuals—no matter their age or economic status—with works of art they love. Recently, I caught up with Martin to learn more about her conviction and her passion for collecting.

“From our college days, my husband and I both loved art,” says Martin. “In time, we learned to love the art that the other had chosen. In fact, we felt that we benefited by living with each other’s collections.”

But what happens if a work of art speaks to one person and not the other?

“If collecting art is about loving each other, we gain insight,” she explains. “If it is about power over the other person, then it could become a war zone.”

All of us, she notes, respond to art on a personal level. “The art we collect reflects our lives, our memories, our heartfelt moments and our diverse tastes,” says Martin. “If you take meaningful pieces home—pieces that speak to you directly—your home becomes a refuge and your ‘best resort.’”

Gallery patron Elizabeth Hogue agrees. “I always wondered what it would be like to live in an environment that I thought was very beautiful—what a difference it might make in my life. With Mary’s help, I live in such an environment. It makes a tremendous difference to me to be surrounded by beauty.”

Martin introduced Hogue to a variety of painters and sculptors, including the legendary Jean Claude Gaugy. Now Hogue’s and her husband’s love of art is being passed down through the generations. “I still remember the day when my son told us he bought his first painting,” says Hogue. “And now our daughter goes around the country with us to art shows that feature wood.”

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The “campaign” idea arose when Martin noticed new generations of people purchasing art from her gallery. Typically, an art buyer is between 35 and 65, but Martin suddenly started to see people outside that range.

A college student fell in love with a piece by David Michael Beck (more on him later) and worked for the gallery until he could pay off a special print. An 8-year-old girl celebrated her birthday at the gallery, learning about the gallery’s artists and their work and declared it “the greatest day of her life.”

Throughout the 2-year campaign, a featured artist from the gallery will speak at the regular First Friday lecture series. During this time, visitors can browse the gallery’s stable of artists. These include Andre Kohn, a young Russian impressionist painter with elegant, sensual oil paintings and David Michael Beck, a painter who’s worked for some of the biggest names in comic books. His Fat Cat—a portrait of a smug-looking tiger decked out in a fancy suit like a feline oil baron—fascinated College of Charleston student Gregory Sterck.

“I definitely fell in love with it,” says Sterck. “It’s above my bed now, and I’m really glad I bought it. I’m a big LSU football fan, and the tiger looked exactly like the mascot. But I think I’d have loved it anyway.”

Mary Martin’s eclectic mix also includes the impressionist landscapes of Charleston-based Elaine Hruska and the bold, abstract painting of Iranian artist Hessam Abrishami. Randall LaGro, Richard Johnson and Leon Bronstein are other topnotch, collectible artists in the gallery.

With over 70 artists exhibiting their work during the gallery’s campaign, Martin hopes at least one of them will speak to every visitor to the gallery. And, if one does, she hopes they’ll purchase a piece—and start their own collection.

Leah Rhyne, novelist and newspaper columnist, is a Jersey Girl living in the South. Website: leahrhyne.com.