Why Hampden Became Site of Important Gallery

by Larry Krause
     The name of the business--Paper-Rock-Scissors--is an exercise in imagination. What in the world does it sell? The answer becomes apparent when one learns this place is Hampden’s newest art gallery: hence, paper, on which to paint; rock, sculpture; scissors, collages.
      The mind, and especially the sense of sight, is stretched as one enters the gallery, which opened in July at 1111 West 36th Street. Immediately, the walls become a galaxy of sunburst colors, a diffusion of the spectrum. Color is complemented by form: not only that of paintings, but wire drawings, sculpture, jewelry and other artworks of wood, metal and stone.
     Through the art displayed, gallery owner Allison Dickinson has found an outlet to expand her imagination and express her creativity.
     Most of the works are oil paintings; about 95% of the artists are Marylanders. A few of them are “visionary artists”--untrained--but most are well-schooled. “I have some emerging young talent,” says Allison. “For those that collect, I believe the day will come when these unknown names today will be the big names of the future.”
      Selection criteria: Allison’s vision for marketing art is shared by Peter DeBeau, Sydney Hopkins and Paula Reynolds, who help her “jury” the artists to be displayed.
     And what are their criteria? Allison says, “It needs to be good and must express a certain level of resolution.” She defines this resolution as emotional rather than visual. And of course there must be craftsmanship--the artistry. Other considerations are: is the piece unique? is it compatible with other pieces in the gallery? is it affordable?
      Allison has had no difficulty finding artwork to show in her gallery. Initially she drew from artists she knew when she ran an art co-op. She also spent 40 to 50 hours looking at slides of artists’ work supplied by Maryland Art Place, and sent out requests to artists whose works she had seen and liked.
      Why Hampden? Selecting the gallery’s Hampden location was not difficult. Allison’s search extended from Hunt Valley to downtown, Mt. Washington to Reisterstown. “I was looking for a viable, sustainable neighborhood--a place like Atlanta, where there is a pulse of its own, beating both night and day,” she said.
     She rejected downtown because it has too much of a tourist base. Towson was a second choice but it too was rejected as Allison felt her business needed to be in an old building, in a community with an ambience.
      She explains, “Hampden is a little world of firemen and policemen, the kids, the merchants association, the newer Hampdenites and the older ones; it’s the parks and schools and shops.” She also was attracted by the fact that there are lots of artists living and working in and around Hampden.
      Arts background: Raised in Winter Park, Florida, a place Allison Dickinson recalls as being “full of interesting architecture, art and artists.” Her mother, when younger, was a concert pianist. While growing up, Allison remembers herself as being “a person full of expression, whether it was dance, writing or singing.” This high energy level has continued into adulthood. Says Allison, “My dial is ten in all forms of expression.”
     Professionally her artistic dial was ratcheted up while studying at Parsons School of Interior Design in New York City. While still in school, she began to get interior design clients from New York City, Newport, Rhode Island, and Palm Beach and Winter Park in Florida. She pursued the interior design profession for a few years in New York before moving to Baltimore in 1984.
      First working here for Michael Asner Associates, she became an associate of the firm and switched from residential to commercial design. Allison began to find, however, that her work was not as creative or artistic as she would have liked; about 90% of her time was involved in the business aspects of the operation.
      Fateful move: At about the same time, she and her family decided to move to a farm in Baltimore County. The bathroom of the old farmhouse had to be entirely gutted. Allison decided to hand-paint all of the new tiles. She reports that friends raved about them and were soon commissioning Allison to hand-paint tiles for them--for floors, walls, bathrooms. She hand-painted tubs, sinks and even china.
     Cooperative venture: “Colores” was born in 1991. She took work solely on commission, working from her home. A second child arrived. Soon Allison realized she needed a place just for Colores. She and a weaver friend decided to rent space together. Before long other artistic friends asked if they could display and sell their works at the location. Soon Allison found herself operating an artists’ co-op in the small town of Butler. Over 110 people were part of the co-op at one time. It closed in 1994.
      Allison returned to interior design, working for Swan/Hall Associates for a couple of years. But again, she says, “I realized that, at least for the time being, interior design was not what I wanted to do. Yes, it is important what color Mrs. Smith wants her walls to be or what fabric to use, but it was no longer important for me to make those decisions.” So Allison took off the next year to “recharge my mental batteries and devote more time to my daughters.”
      By 1997, Allison had come to the conclusion that an art gallery, not a co-op, would be the right outlet for her creative energies. Before long she had developed a 45-page business plan, and the search for a location began--and now Paper-Rock-Scissors is “happening in Hampden.”

     Happenings within the gallery itself during this month include an offering of miniature original artworks by Effie Gereny, Peter Gilleran, Carol Lee Thompson, and C.W. Roelle, through January 10. An opening reception for the artists will be held on Tuesday, December 3 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Call 235-4420.

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This story was published on Dec. 2, 1998.