Collecting art is… well, an art. While to some, it is an investment, to others, it elicits an emotional response. Whatever the reason, Troika Gallery Fine Art Studio has, for the past 25 years, been providing the Eastern Shore (and beyond) with a broad selection of art along with their many years of expertise.
Troika credits their existence to a dream that would make Easton an art destination. But it wasn’t their dream. The year was 1997, and visionary real estate developer Tim Dills had available space in the Talbot Town Shopping Center. He also had an idea. So he turned to Laura Era, then president of the Working Artist Forum (WAF), wondering if she would be interested in starting a gallery, rent-free for the first year. It would be the first of its kind in Easton.
Era consulted with her mother, Dorothy Newland, and Annapolis artist Jennifer Heyd Wharton. Even though none of them had experience running a gallery, how could they say no to such a great opportunity? What they lacked in gallery experience, they more than made up in their knowledge, each having successful art careers. Newland and Era painted portraits in oils and pastels, and Wharton was a watercolor landscape artist. The three devised a plan to run an exclusive gallery selling traditional and original fine art painted by a select and limited group of artists.
So with a set place and a plan, the only thing they lacked was a name, and that, too, came by unexpectedly. They were at their lawyer’s office about to sign a partnership agreement when the attorney walked in and asked, “what are we going to do with this ‘troika’?” Troika, in Russian, is a group of three people. It stuck. “Three was a beautiful number,” says Era. “Our logo is a triangle which in art is one of the most grounded compositions. We also were three Christian women who believed in the Trinity. So there you go, a match made in heaven.”
Whatever the intervention, Troika did well in the first year. They doubled what they made in their second year and doubled that again in their third. This was a pleasant surprise to the trio, but the most amazed was Dills. “Several years after we started,” says Era, “he revealed to us that he didn’t think we’d make it, but he wanted to see art in the town and gave us a shot.”
To no one’s surprise, by the fifth year, they had outgrown their space. Enter Dills again with another offer. This time it was a run-down building on Harrison Street that he would fix for them. Again, they couldn’t refuse. It was the perfect location—between the Avalon and close to the Academy Art Museum. That was 20 years ago. “We’ve been blessed,” says Era. “we’ve had 25 years of selling original fine art in a small town. This is not New York City; we’re in Easton. But then again, Easton is not just any town.”
Throughout the years, there have been changes: four years ago, Newland passed away at the age of 97, and Wharton moved to South Carolina to be with her family. So the troika is down to only one (with help from gallery manager Peg Fitzgerald), but Era’s commitment to not change what has been effective continues. Troika is still a quality fine arts gallery. You will not find her artists in any other gallery on the Eastern Shore. You will also not find prints, photographs, or abstract paintings.
What also has not changed is the criteria for handpicking any new artist wanting to be one of the 30-35 represented by the gallery. Troika has strict standards they have upheld throughout their existence. “First, I ask them to look around,” Era said, “Does their artwork fit into the ‘feel’ of our gallery? Is their work different than what any other artist does here? We don’t need another Bill Storck or another Victor Nizovtsev (two of Troika’s current artists). We already have them, so they must be different yet still fit that traditional fine art genre. Their work must also be well-framed, and they need to have a long successful track record. We really don’t want up-and-coming artists. There is a place for that, but it’s not us.”
One thing that Troika doesn’t care about is where the artist originates. “Yes, some are fairly local,” says Era, “but they’re from all over the U.S., even Canada. And we have a couple of our U.S. artists who are originally from Russia and Cuba.
However, there is one final criterion: “We need their work to knock our socks off. We want to be walking around barefoot because there is such great art here,” she added, laughing.
It’s all about that first impression. Era wants Troika to be distinctive, to be quality, and to be memorable. To hit all three requirements, they offer various services. “We have a great framer, and of course, we’re there to help people make a selection. We work with a conservator who can appraise what your art is worth, and decorators to style your home. Our artists will also do commissioned work.” For Era, that is portraiture work that she paints in, what she calls, the 4th room in her gallery—her studio.
Of course, this all circles back to making sure people are excited by the choice they make. If you’re not sure what works in your environment, Troika will bring several pieces and hang them throughout your space. Still not sure? Era will encourage you to take pictures home on trial to see if you love them on your wall as much as you love them in the gallery. “We want to have paintings here that people can relate to and feel good about. If you can’t be emotional about it, just hang wallpaper.”
Stop by. Shoes optional.
9 South Harrison Street, Easton, Maryland
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Monday, 11 am -6 pm
Val Cavalheri is a writer and photographer. She has written for various publications, including The Washington Post. Previously she served as the editor of several magazines, including Bliss and Virginia Woman. Although her camera is never far from her reach, Val retired her photography studio when she moved from Northern Virginia to the Eastern Shore a few years ago.. She and her husband, Wayne Gaiteri, have two children and one grandchild.