Sara Arditti and David Dempster moved to Ellicott City last month by way of Washington, DC, by way of Harper's Ferry, by way of Abu Dhabi, Paris, and Los Angeles.
The couple wanted to own an art gallery for years and finally had the chance when Dempster’s last job, in construction management, ended.
“We decided not to be dependent on ‘The Man,’ ” Arditti said with a laugh, sitting at a desk covered in Raku pottery (by Marke Poole) and lavender stems. They found their freedom at 8173 Main St., where, for a month this Friday, they have run Still Life Gallery.
The gallery showcases local and regional “museum quality” artwork, Arditti said, and also provides custom, archival conservation-quality framing.
Aside from running the gallery and managing the framing operation, the day-to-day of owning a business has made for a hectic first month.
“I don’t have time to cook anymore,” Arditti said, and she hasn’t had time to work on her own art, which includes painting and sculpting, among other endeavors.
When you think of running your own business, which the two had dreamt of for years, “You picture the good, fun, awesome stuff,” Arditti said. “You have no way of knowing about everything else.”
Currently on exhibition at Still Life is OFF THE BEATEN PATH, paintings by artist Diane Tesler, who spends her time divided between Alexandria, VA, and Kewanna, IN.
When looking for an artist to feature, Dempster said, they came across Tesler’s work in Virginia. Her work fit nicely with the couples focus on contemporary realism and plein air painting.
“She was by far the best artist featured,” he said, and her fellow artists had nothing but praise for Tesler’s skills as a painter, but also for her efforts to be a mentor and her abilities as a teacher at the Art League School in Alexandria, where she taught for 34 years.
Arditti, who has a Bachelor's Degree in Art from UCLA, and Dempster are both life-long art aficionados with particular tastes, but they steer clear of the stereotype, offering an open and inviting space, and praising their neighbors and the local art scene often.
Dempster is a Los Angeles native, and Arditti might as well be–she lived in the City of Angels since she was 17. In 2007, they decided to sell their house so that they could live abroad.
First, they moved to Paris “for a whole year,” Arditti said. "Just the word ‘Paris,’ it conjures images of cheese and gardens and pastries …
“Then we needed to make some money,” she said, snapping out of her Paris daydream. Dempster worked for one of the Sheiks of Abu Dhabi, managing construction projects.
The location wasn’t much to Arditti’s liking -- she called the heat "insufferable" -- but Dempster turned from his computer to show a photo of himself standing in the foreground of a vast desert, a massive mosque looming out of focus in the background.
“They are trying to be a world-class city,” Dempster said of Abu Dhabi. “To be world-class, you must have great art,” and he said they did see impressive artwork and architecture. Their hotel was once a palace and, he said, “had a gold vending machine. You need gold? Well, there it is.”
After Abu Dhabi, the couple moved to Washington, DC, where they spent time remodeling their home–another one of their talents. (The two are also design consultants and Arditti makes a natural hair and skin moisturiser, HairOlicious).
The two then moved to Harpers Ferry WV., where Arditti was introduced to new bugs. “I swear I saw a tarantula. It was this big,” she said, making a circle with her two index fingers and thumbs. “And it was hairy.”
After a while, they decided it was time to go into business for themselves. “We have dreamed of opening a gallery,” Arditti said.
It was more plausible, financially, to see that dream to fruition in Ellicott City than in Los Angeles. They searched for businesses for sale and came across the gallery, which has operated as such in the space on Main Street for decades.
“This is a great location,” Arditti said “We like the vibe, the foot traffic–it was just a great opportunity. The people here are interesting and very intelligent.”
This story has been edited.