One of the hardest things for me to buy for my house is artwork.  I really know nothing about it, and feel very intimidated walking into galleries.  But I also prefer something original rather then the mass-produced pictures found in most stores.  A couple of years ago, a friend told us about the local annual Art League Patron’s Show – a fund raiser for the League.  The show makes picking out a new piece of art fun, exciting, and a little uncertain.

Here’s how it works:  To start with, donated artwork from League members is collected and numbered, and show tickets are sold.  The number of tickets sold equals the number of pieces of donated art, and they sell out within an hour of going on sale.  This year, there were 660 works of art donated by League artists.  About 2 weeks before the show, you visit the gallery to view and prioritize the artwork.  Then on the evening of the Patrons’ Show, tickets are randomly drawn and when your name is announced, you select the piece of remaining artwork that you would like to take home.  The announcer calls off names about once every 15 seconds, so you not only have to keep track of what pieces you want, but also what pieces have already been chosen.  If you take too long to call off your choice, or if you choose something that has already been picked, the entire building erupts in loud BOOs.

Everyone has a different approach to ranking the artwork and keeping track of what is left during the show.  Being married to an engineer, we have a very elaborate system.  Greg downloads and prints the Excel spreadsheet containing a list of all of the art.  We each get a list, and I am told to label every item on my list as either A (like it), B (okay), C (we can hang it in the basement), or X (I don’t want it in my house).  In addition, I select my top 10 choices.  Then with the promise of a relaxing dinner out in Old Town afterwards, we head to the gallery to individually view and rank artwork.  Here is my list at the end of this years review.


An exercise like this is a good way to learn what kind of art you like (modern and still lifes for me).  And you see how compatible you are with your spouse – bickering is widespread as couples try to agree on their favorite works.  We overhead one woman say she finally started buying her husband his own ticket a few years ago.

Over the next few days, Greg consolidated our lists and printed small color images of all the artwork in our combined top 10, A, and B groups (approximately 100 items).  We then covered the dining room table and ordered everything within each group.


After a few days of arguing and compromising, we finally had an ordered list of about the top 100 items.  Greg then created a new color-coded spreadsheet.  The colors represent the group (top 10, A, B, or C), and a number next to the item shows it’s final ranking.


Finally, on the evening of the Patrons’ Show drawing the excitement was palpable.  People arrived hours ahead of time to stake out the best seating areas, carting bags of food and drink. The food choices ran from KFC to charcuterie, and drink included beer, wine, and other beverages to fuel the boos mentioned earlier.


Projection screens were strategically positioned so everyone could see each piece of artwork as it was selected.


During the event, Greg maintained the master list, crossing of each item as it was chosen by someone.


If it was one of our top 100 picks, he told me what number to cross off on our list of ranked pictures.   After a couple of hours, our name was finally called – 416th out of ~660 tickets.  Amazingly, our number 4 pick – Kitchen Knives – was still available.  We have found over the years that peoples tastes for artwork very wildly – even with hundreds of pieces already picked, some of our favorites are usually still available.


Here is what we selected.  It looks great hanging in our kitchen.

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As I mentioned, not everyone uses such an elaborate scheme during the Patron’s Show.  Our friend blew through the gallery minutes before the show started and selected just 5 works of art – once they were gone, she wasn’t interested in anything else.  Unfortunately, by the time her number was called, all of her favorites were taken.


Her loss was our gain, however.  When her name was called, she kindly let us select a second item.  These little wooden animal figures were our 15th choice – not too bad considering it was the 437th name called.

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Of course, galleries and shows are not the only place to buy art.  We find many lovely pieces at estate sales and local thrift shops.  Here are three local water scenes painted by artist Caroline Heald that we recently acquired.

bf_heald1Veteran Scullers, 1994, Caroline Heald

bf_heald3Tom and Mixed Quad, 1994, Caroline Heald


Eights Passing Hunting Creek, 1994, Caroline Heald

Imagine my surprise when we were reviewing the artwork for this year’s Patron’s Show and I saw this familiar-looking Potomac scene by Caroline as one of the donated works.  This picture went home with someone that night, but the 3 pictures above are available from Semper Stylish.

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Hopefully this post has given you some other ideas on other (non-intimidating) places to look for art.  Please stop by our shop at Eclectic Nature in Del Ray – and soon at our new location in Newburg, MD – where we have plenty of artwork (and other nice things for your house) for you to choose from.