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Bay Weekly Spotlight on Business: Cynthia McBride of McBride Gallery

She saw Annapolis’s potential as a center of art

When Cynthia McBride was a kid driving a tractor on her family’s Minnesota farm, art was not on her mind or in her future. At her father’s right hand, she watched as he managed the farm, purchased seed and equipment, planned for future crops. The seed of art that flourishes in the largest art gallery in historic Annapolis sprouted with her mother, a painter with a home studio.
    Both parents were examples of hard work, honesty and thriftiness. “Nothing got thrown away,” McBride remembers. “Everything was used.”
    Coming of age in the 1970s, McBride recognized that corporate America — which then had little room for smart and ambitious young women — was not for her. She decided on self-employment, turning her love of art into a career.
    In a crash course working at a friend’s framing shop, she learned about framing, how to cut glass and miter corners. Plan in hand, she marched to the bank for a business loan.
    “Mrs. McBride, don’t you have a husband?” the loan officer asked. “We would like to meet him before we can approve this loan.”
    She opened her first business, The Original Gallery, in Massachusetts. Each time her husband took a new job in another state, she followed, selling one business and opening another — with two little girls in tow.
    Annapolis Marine Art Gallery was her first local business. After selling out to her partner in 1980, she leased “as is” a building on Main Street. She thought the wavy wooden floors gave the place character. What she didn’t see was how the seller’s strategically placed tables were hiding rot and exposed earth. Nor did she see the huge holes in the walls, for they were hidden by the previous owner’s merchandise. She did, however, see the potential.
    When McBride decided to use brick for flooring, she needed a truckload of sand as a base. Her young daughters Abigail and Elizabeth stretched their necks to stare up at the enormous pile of sand in the middle of the shop. Savvy woman that she is, McBride gave the girls the go ahead to play in the pile. She smiled as the girls climbed, slid and pushed the sand around; distributing it between the floor trusses. This would not be the first time the girls would help mom with the business, but it was perhaps the most memorable.
    As McBride stood between a pile of bricks and sand, the air-conditioning contractor in her doorway asked what kind of business it was going to be. When she explained that it was going to be an art gallery, his puzzled face squinted and he asked: “People buy that here?” Annapolis was transitioning.
    Main Street had long been lined with stores that supplied their neighbors with groceries, shoes and medicine. The new merchants were catering to tourists, which meant restaurants, gift shops, and bookstores. McBride knew that another gallery would bring more people to Annapolis.
    In 1990, she moved into her present location, 215 Main Street. The colonial home with a tin roof, dormer windows and green shutters fits among the many quaint shops facing brick-paved sidewalks. Rooms are decorated with period furnishings and, above each fireplace, hangs a large painting.
    In themed exhibits throughout the year, McBride introduces more artists and their works to citizens and visitors. Showing through October 16 is The Best of the Chesapeake. Among the artists are daughter Abigail McBride plus at least two others you’ve met in Bay Weekly, Gary Pendleton and Lisa Egeli. November brings The Classic Landscape and December Small Gems.
    Promoting artists and their creations is work McBride loves, as is meeting customers. She credits her long and enduring presence on Main Street to listening. When customers needed appraisals or help downsizing their art collections, for example, she incorporated those services into her growing business.
    McBride makes it her business to build community as well as artistic reputations. She was the first woman president of the Rotary Club of Annapolis in 1998-’99, less than a decade after women were allowed to join Rotary.
    Remember those old tables that hid the holes in the floor of McBride’s first Main Street gallery? They were transformed into the cabinet that now serves as McBride’s counter. Nothing gets thrown away; everything is used.

See for Yourself
McBride Gallery, 215 Main St., Annapolis, 410-267-7007,,