Gallery is reproductions, but Main Street art store is the 'real thing'

The Old Masters have come to Laurel. Some of the most memorable works of Boticelli, da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Wyeth — among others — have been installed at a new museum on Main Street. Ok, so they're not original works. But the high-quality reproductions, framed and hung in a floor-to-ceiling museum presentation, make an impressive display at a newly remodeled section of the Laurel Art Center.

Earlier this month the Main Street art store unveiled its new "museum" at an invitation-only open house attended by some of its most loyal customers. A small reception with wine, cheese and desserts was provided in an area near the front of the store that has been converted into a small gallery for displaying reproductions of the great masters in art history.

I stopped by at the invitation of Diane Klukosky, who has worked at the store for five years and helped with the open house. Diane's concern about how many folks would show up on a Sunday afternoon was quickly dispelled by a steady stream of people. Joyce and Leo Emery, who have owned the Laurel Art Center since 1983, were there to greet everyone. Leo is a cancer survivor, so the Emerys have turned the day-to-day operations of the store over to their grandson, Michael. Michael's mom and dad, Cathy and Randy Emery, run the Gallery up the street and were also helping out at the open house. So Michael has it in his blood. But it was his grandfather who came up with the museum idea and made it a reality. Fittingly, the new addition is named Leo's Museum Room.

Most of the store's customers, whether professional or amateur, are artists to their core. People like Edward Taylor, who I know as a paraprofessional at Scotchtown Hills Elementary School. Edward is a watercolor and mixed media artist who conducts art workshops at the Laurel Armory. Or DK Hawk and Rose Atiyeh, nature and wildlife photographers in Old Town Laurel who use the framing services at the art center. DK and Rose offered a stark — and modern —contrast to the framed works on the walls: They were showing us many of their photos on their iPads.

Whether they were talking about visits for supplies, advice or just the artistic ambience of the place, everyone spoke affectionately about the Laurel Art Center.

The mood of the open house was bright and celebratory, befitting the event and this new addition to the Laurel art scene. There also, however, was the underlying concern for the future of the Laurel Art Center which, like many businesses on Main Street, is struggling. Hope was expressed; hope for an economic turnaround in general and for a Main Street revival in particular. At the moment, though, it is a hope not buoyed by optimism.

I know a lot of people, myself included, join in the hope that circumstances change for the better. This mainstay of Main Street is the largest general art store in Maryland. The giant artist's palate out in front of the store is a wonderful beacon for the beauty, utility and whimsy found inside. The store is a comfortable clutter of nooks and crannies filled to capacity with hard-to-find artist tools and materials. Any wall space not taken by inventory is covered by interesting artwork for sale — including those Old Masters prints in the museum. From its poster art collection to the artist's trading cards that are mini works of original art; to Lazy Bones, the ancient, indestructible, still-only-10-cents-a-ride mechanical riding toy; to its brand-new Leo's Museum Room, the Laurel Art Center is one-of-a-kind in a retail landscape that is increasingly all the same.

Michael McLaughlin is a former Laurel Leader columnist.

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