If you visit the home of Leila and Buff Ross, you're in for a grade school treat. It's show and tell time. The couple's Sullivan's Island home is all art. And rightfully so. Leila's on the board at the Halsey and Buff's on the board at Redux Studios. But they're also parents, curators, and co-owners of Alloneword Design, where Buff is the head designer. They compare themselves to Herb and Dorothy Vogel, the legendary "proletarian art collectors" of the 20th century, who, instead of traveling or dining out, used all their extra income to buy art. But to Leila there's more to their collection than pretty images on a wall. Artwork is about the tales they tell. "Hearing the story behind the work is what seals the deal for me," she says.
"This painting is by Kevin Taylor, who used to live in Charleston but is now in San Francisco," Leila and Buff explain, touring guests around their home, "This coffee stirrer is made by our good friend Jonathan Brilliant."
And now, they're taking guests on a virtual tour. In the spirit of websites like Art Net, Saatchi, and Buy Some Damn Art, the Rosses have started ShowandTellArtandDesign.com, an online gallery. The site is small, featuring just six artists at present, and that's just the way they want it. By keeping it smaller, their gallery is less overwhelming and more personal.
Leila says, "Every piece that we put on our website will have a story behind it for the possible buyer." Each artist has a profile page that includes their work, a streamlined artist statement, and an interview with Leila in which she asks questions like, "What do you have on your bedside table?"
Chambers Austelle is one such artist. The most recent addition to Show & Tell, the downtown resident sleeps in a tent in her home with her husband so she doesn't have a bedside table. But thanks to the revealing Q&A other details of Austelle's eccentric artist life are revealed. For example, Leila asks: What was your most bizarre exchange with a stranger?
Austelle says, "When I was in high school I worked at Charley's Steakery in the food court at the mall. A man with a blue suitcase came up and proceeded to take a 'dry' shower using our malt vinegar bottle. I let him pour it all over himself while I went to the back and called security." Leila hopes these small, poignant details help form a connection with the viewer that could otherwise only be made in person.
"I love the concept behind Show & Tell Art and Design," says Austelle. "Leila reached out to me after she saw my painting, "Charlotte," and everything after that was a very natural, seamless process. During a studio visit, she told me that she falls in love with a work after she falls in love with the artist's story, and that's what she brings to the website, our stories."
Although Austelle is fond of the virtual art world, she hopes brick-and-mortar galleries will always exist. "Just as there are different styles in art, there should be different types of galleries," she says.
Which is true, but just as in online dating, you never quite know if there's a connection until you meet the person in real life, it can be hard to commit to a piece of art virtually.
Lelia is aware of this drawback. "The whole buying art online thing has never intimidated me at all, though it is a bit scary not to see the piece right in front of you," she says.
For Show & Tell artist Sarah Boyts Yoder, however, the online atmosphere has been beneficial. She's sold four of her paintings thus far on Show & Tell's website.
Yoder first realized her talent as a kid while drawing and repeatedly redrawing the MTV logo. Her paintings have kept that bold graphic quality, and, for that reason, she thinks they are viewed well on a screen. Which is good, as Yoder recognizes that the potential audience for an online gallery is enormous. "On the surface it's colorful and bold. I use lots of shapes and forms in a contrasting and graphic way, but it's also very layered, textured, and three dimensional in places," she says. Though she admits, "Sometimes it's hard to see that in a photograph, to get a feel for all the layers." She adds, "Hopefully the buyer falls in love with the color, symbols, and story behind the work, and the rest is a very pleasant surprise."
Show & Tell plans to host a brick-and-mortar pop-up show in December. In the future they want to have at least four or five of those shows a year.