by Tricia Lynn Strader
photos by Monika Wertman
The Fine Arts Company in Hagerstown offers beautiful and functional pieces for the home or office. These pieces of true art aren’t anything like what you’ll find in chain stores. What’s unique about The Fine Arts Company and the art sold there is that it’s made in the USA by talented artists. It’s not from a cookie cutter mold. And this is the only store in the country that features these artists’ work all in one place.
The Fine Arts Company opened in November 2013. U.S. military reservists Melissa Kaiser and David Nathans came up with the idea after visiting art fairs and local galleries in various parts of the country. In their travels with the Army and Air Force domestically and abroad, they discovered many incredibly talented artists who love to create art and have a passion to create one-of-akind pieces.
But, Kaiser says, the artists didn’t know how to market their products to a broader audience. They believed the artists needed a way of showcasing their talents to the larger public. They came up with the idea of a store while Kaiser was living in Rochester, New York. However, with job transfers for both of them taking them nearer to D.C., they decided to look around the Frederick or Winchester areas to place a store, and expand the inventory to include area artists. They settled on Hagerstown, Kaiser says, because there wasn’t any store like theirs envisioned in Hagerstown. They found the location and The Fine Arts Company was born.
“Everything is made in the USA and the majority costs under $100,” says Kaiser of the store’s inventory. We actively look for artists, and we look for quality pieces with a zinger— something unique like pottery, but pottery with crackled glass infused in it. That’s something you won’t find at a Wal-Mart or Target.”
Nathans says, “The original collection of art purchased for the store started in Rochester, but quickly expanded to include artists from all over the country including Alaska. The store focuses in a few main areas, and the store seeks artists in those areas.”
Those focus areas are gifts and collectibles ranging from pottery to glass-blown products, metal art, wall art, jewelry, wood products and home accents. Some are functional. Others are simply for the enjoyment of the art. But the stock doesn’t stop there. There are unusual gifts, natural health and body products.
Work for sale is handmade by artists from California, Alaska, Oregon and Delaware to name a few states represented. There are items from local artists just down the way from Hagerstown, such as Sharpsburg or Keedysville, Martinsburg or Berkeley Springs. Some hail from over the Mason Dixon Line in nearby Pennsylvania.
Stepping inside the store, don’t miss the large metal tree by Berkeley Springs artist Mark Schwenk of Frog Valley Artisans. It holds glass ball ornaments by many different artists. Overhead, be sure to ask Kaiser or the attendant to change the colors of the chandelier by Tim McFadden of Baltimore, created in the style of Chihuly.
Photographer Monika Wertman sells her work at The Fine Arts Company. Jason Silverman of Philadelphia creates brightly glazed and colorful pieces of pottery and dishware. Callie Badorrek creates pottery with smooth glazes or rough sand type glazes.
Some inventory comes from customer requests and ideas. If several customers ask for something, they try to find an artist to make it. “Witches balls” are supposed to ward off evil spirits.
Diane Kline from Scranton, Pa., area, is a professional finger painter. All her original works are finger paints she transforms into accessories. She makes ladies’ pins and jewelry with matching scarves. Kaiser says the pins are magnetic, so they won’t tear garments. And, Kline makes gift boxes of recycled paper with a print of the same image.
An Oregon artist makes large “hand warmer” mugs with a hidden handle to slip one’s fingers inside to be warmed by the hot beverage. Ladies will also like the earrings, and jewelry made by many local or regional artists. Amy Martin of Chambersburg makes sterling silver and enamel jewelry; Lisa White of Pittsburgh grows her own garden flowers and puts them into resin. She incorporates the flowers into jewelry like lockets. Birch bark jewelry by Deborah Bushinkski of Minnesota looks like clay, but it’s really the bark of the tree.
There’s even something for the man in one’s life. Handmade wooden chest sets and tables can be found at The Fine Arts Company, as are wall switch plates with moving gear pieces that beg to be played with, made by Green Tree Jewelry of California.
For women who like moving parts or something to be a conversation piece, the same artist makes ladies jewelry of moving gear parts. Kaiser says someone who purchased one and wore it to church reported back that everyone wanted to see how it worked.
Kaiser says while having items for the adults, they can’t leave the children out. Thomas Von Koch of Delaware creates glass pieces for adults, but also tiny glass animals looking for a home. Little girls will also like hair ties that won’t break their delicate hair and can also be worn as bracelets.
For the sweet tooth, try the chocolate of Hollywood stars. Zoe’s Chocolate from Waynesboro was part of the gifts given to stars at last year’s Emmys and Academy Awards.
For bakers who sometimes lose their recipe, there are handmade baking dishes with recipes for things like apple pie stamped right onto the back of the dish.
Other tasty items are flavored sugars, BBQ rubs, handmade candies just in for fall, and popcorn seasonings.
Michael Michaud makes “table art” and jewelry. He takes a real flower or leaf, makes a mold, and creates items like flatware or napkin rings that are pewter and bronze with gold or silver tones.
Everyone loves candles for their relaxing and warming glow, especially in the fall. The Fine Arts Company sells beeswax candles, said to burn longer, brighter and even clean the air.
Handmade soaps and balms come from various artists such as Homemade Expressions, Cedar Ridge Soaps of Keedysville, or Lunar Herbs of Clear Spring.
Janet Grimm of Hagerstown and Brenda Gay make cards for special occasions. One might find just the right birthday card in the same shop as the unique gift.
Want to try channeling the creative juices? The Fine Arts Company hosts painting and pottery parties—oneday lessons to make and take a piece. Fees are usually around $45 or $55.
David Nathans says, “This is where individuals or groups can come into the store for a small fee and work with a local artist to experience painting on canvas or working with clay, to develop functional pieces of their own to enjoy. Art coupled with a party atmosphere, along with people bringing their own beverage of choice, makes this an interactive evening of being social and creative in a fun environment—especially for people with little to no artistic abilities.”
Kaiser says they have several private parties with large groups booked this fall already. “In November, we’ll have a ‘make your own ornament’ party with Callie Badorrek, and a ‘design your own ornament of glass’ with glass blower Kevin Beecher.”
Art demonstrations are held regularly. The Fine Arts Company also recently participated in downtown Hagerstown in the Downtown Movement event. They invite artists like painters, potters, glass blowers, etc. for demonstrations. Second Saturday of the month is Meet the Artist day. Events are listed at the store’s website in the calendar section.
Nathans says they purchase all the art directly from the artists, meaning the store provides a direct and positive impact to each artist with which they have a relationship.
“We ensure the best representations of the artists’ work are sold and that it’s affordable to the customer,” says Nathans. Additionally, even if an artist’s works are not selected to be sold in the store, The Fine Arts Company works with them to help develop their craft and can provide them with market guidance and training. “We can also give them showcase opportunities through art demonstrations, art exhibits and meet the artist evenings. This helps them get their name out into the public and develop as artists.”
One wall is reserved for a revolving monthly exhibit by local artists.
For more information, call 301-971-ART1, or log onto www.thefineartscompany.com. Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. The Fine Arts Company is located at 18031 Garland Groh Boulevard, Hagerstown, Md.