A thriving art scene in any town doesn’t just happen. No matter where you go, you are bound to find good art, and excellent artists. It takes people that are both interested in community and recognize that art – in all forms – contributes to the cohesiveness and growth. Some are making history now, and some already have a place in history, having played a key role in igniting the spark of today’s amazing Annapolis art scene. Cynthia McBride is an Annapolis treasure who both jump-started the momentum of arts in Annapolis, and continues to make great contributions to putting the town on the art map nationwide.
Selected in 1997 as one of “Maryland’s Top 100 Women,” she has served in key roles on the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Anne Arundel County Cultural Arts Foundation, the Rotary Club and numerous other organizations and commissions. The list is long and Cynthia’s dedication to community service is well known. As owner of McBride Gallery (215 Main St., Annapolis, MD), she has been featured in national publications such as Art Business News, Décor Magazine, American Art Collector, and more.
McBride Gallery represents some of the finest representational art by renowned regional artists and beyond. Currently on display is the Oil Paintings of American (OPA) 2018 Eastern Regional Exhibition, which is incredibly prestigious, bringing attention to Annapolis by some of the best artists and art patrons in the country. Cynthia has managed to work with a number of these national art organizations to have their premier events in Annapolis and her gallery, which puts our community on the preferred list for art places to visit.
I thought we should all know the story behind the woman…
One of six children, Cynthia grew up on a dairy and grain farm in Northern Minnesota near the Canadian Border. Her father was a farmer, her mother an accomplished painter. When friends came over to sleep in the hayloft, they were amazed that her house was filled with art. That was unusual in farm country! Their awe helped Cynthia realize the value of this additional dimension to their home.
As farm children, they understood that their father’s work was farming, and their mother’s work was art. They had plenty of outdoor chores, but when they were inside they wanted to be mother’s helper. The siblings would stand in the doorway to her studio, peeking in and asking if they could come watch? Cynthia remembers her mother would let them stand there watching, always with the firm warning: “don’t jiggle the table.”
Her first job as an adult was at a publishing company north of Boston, moving there after college with her East Coast husband. When her husband’s office moved south of Boston, she left her job and realized she was bored by her corporate job; she could now choose to do whatever she wanted.
Young and optimistic, she asked herself: “What do I know, and how can I use it?”
She knew a lot about two things: farming and art. Farming was neither an exciting nor a practical prospect where she lived, but art… now that she could do. Not an artist herself, she knew about fine art – what was good, what appealed to people. Knowing she needed to learn how to frame, one of her friends taught her over a weekend, and she started buying framing equipment. When she saw a For Rent sign on a 10’ x 10’ shop in a strip mall in Hull, MA, she went for it. She called it The Original Gallery, because it was her first gallery, and because she featured original artwork. One of the artists she exhibited was her mother’s.
The gallery had been open six months and doing well when her husband’s job had them move, and she told her customers that she would have to sell. Within a week, one of them asked “Can I buy it?” followed by, “I don’t know anything framing or running a gallery!” Cynthia taught her well, and the gallery continued.
She had made mistakes and learned, and her motto became, “Start small, think big, work hard.”
If you start small, your mistakes are small. If you start big, your mistakes could be disastrous. An entrepreneur was born.
Now with two little girls, her next gallery venture was out of her home. She bought new framing equipment and the story repeated itself. When it was time for them to move again she began telling her customers she needed to sell. One customer said, “can I buy it, but I don’t know how…” and once again, Cynthia provided instruction and made a successful sale.
Introducing Marine Art to Annapolis
Her husband’s office was now in DC, but Cynthia didn’t want to live there. She said, “DC was too much city for a farm girl,” so they discovered Annapolis. Once here, she began looking for gallery/frame shop space. It was 1976, and there were only a few galleries in town. Seeing the announcement in the paper that the Wax Museum was closing, to be replaced by a mini-mall, she saw an opportunity.
She felt strongly that Annapolis should be showing and selling marine art, and what better location than near City Dock. With her innate sense of business that now had experience behind it, she chose a space she felt would have good appeal to potential customers; the second one in with good front-facing windows. Opening during the boat shows that year, the Annapolis Marine Art Gallery came into being. It is still there today, and one of the three premier marine art galleries in the country.
For the first time, she had a friend work with her in the gallery. Within three years, her friend wanted to buy the gallery. Cynthia thought long and hard, and realized that if she sold it, she could act on her desire to increase the public’s interest in art. She could open another gallery, and more galleries meant more art, and more people would come to see the art. So she opened McBride Gallery on 117 Main Street in June of 1980, and 10 years later moved up to where she is located today, at 215 Main St. She also opened Benfield Gallery in Severna Park in 1984, which became the framing production shop as well as gallery.
The history of the Annapolis Art Walk
Her motto of “start small, think big, work hard” applied to the expansion of the art scene in Annapolis as well as her own business. The first meeting of all the Annapolis galleries was held at the Marian Warren Gallery on Maryland Avenue to plans things they could do together. Called “A Round of Galleries” they would be open late one evening every quarter, and that worked for about a year and half, but people weren’t coming in the winter. It died out, and then Cynthia created the Annapolis Gallery Association, revising the gallery walk to occur once a year in August, and the Annapolis Gallery Association’s Art Walk is now in its 28th year with more than 20 member galleries participating.
Growing the Annapolis Art Scene
It was also in those earlier years that Cynthia led the Gallery Association in establishing a full page, monthly Gallery Column in the Capital Gazette, published the first Sunday of every month and providing Anne Arundel County with a list and description of events and openings, and that column is going strong today. People often tear it out and keep it with them – again a testament to Cynthia’s contributions and key role in what is now a burgeoning art scene.
She and her gallery continue to lend support to area art events that help to expand the awareness of our amazing art to a larger audience; she actively participates in and supports MFA’s Paint Annapolis, the yearly premier plein air event in June, which brings international juried artists to the area.
I can attest to Cynthia’s genuine desire to support artists and individuals in the art scene. I have been writing the Capital Gallery Column now for six and a half years, and she has also provided me with gems of wisdom that have helped me with my art as a business.
We are lucky and grateful to Cynthia McBride being one of the founders of an art community that is expansive and welcoming. She and her gallery are going strong, and I am always excited to see what’s next!
Images courtesy of Patrice Drago and McBride Gallery