Artist, Realtor Buy Art Things
By Steve Adams
And just like that, Art Things has a new owner—make that a pair of co-owners: Comacell Brown, a lifelong Annapolitan, and Todd Powell, a longtime Annapolitan by way of Pumphrey.
The duo made the deal “Facebook (and Instagram) official” on April 6, less than two months after owner Skye Vasquez put the 56-year-old go-to spot for all-things art supplies in Annapolis up for sale.
Vasquez, who bought the iconic store in 2018, had moved it from its longtime location in West Annapolis to Maryland Hall in May 2020, during the pandemic; she returned to her day job in finance to keep it afloat and left the management to long-time employee Kim Eshleman, who has been with the store since 1978. But after Eshleman had a family emergency, Vasquez made the difficult decision to close the shop in October 2021.
With these challenges in mind, Vasquez couldn’t be happier to have found Brown and Powell, whom she clearly sees as the right buyers to continue Art Things’ proud legacy.
“I am very excited to see Comacell’s and Todd’s vision for the store come to life,” said Vasquez. “They have great ideas to keep the store going, and growing, while also staying close to its core mission of providing the community with both art supplies and education.”
Indeed, co-ownership of Art Things could be considered a natural fit for Brown and Powell given their individual backgrounds and their preexisting business relationship.
Brown, aka Cell Spitfire, is the lead designer at Tunnel Vision, a sports apparel company located in Severn, CEO of Cell Spitfire Paintings and Designs, and a teaching artist and mentor who was named 2021 Visual Artist of the Year by the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County at the 21st Annie Awards. He’s also a nationally-renowned muralist, having completed countless works of high-visibility outdoors art in Annapolis—for example The Walking Man, which memorializes Carlester “Buckwheat” Smith, on the wall of Pinkey’s West Street Liquors, and the Carr’s Beach Mural, which memorializes what was once the go-to beach for African-Americans in the mid-Atlantic, at the Maryland Cultural Conference Center, and beyond, including on basketball courts in Washington, D.C., Louisville, Kentucky, and Harlem, New York.
A realtor, hotelier, developer, and entrepreneur who spent years as the wedding and events manager at St. Michael’s Inn at Perry Cabin, Powell also serves as Brown’s manager and agent, having connected with him following the unveiling of the Carr’s Beach mural in May 2021.
Together, they look forward to combining their artistic, creative, and business expertise to not only maintain, but also grow, the business—plus proudly preserve its legacy as a minority-owned one, as it will transition from woman-owned to Black-owned.
For starters, they’ll do so by keeping the store’s name and logo, the Mona Lisa sign that’s synonymous with art supplies in Annapolis, and continuing to, “match artists with the right materials and supplies so that they can successfully fulfill their creative expression.”
Customers can not only continue purchasing the traditional materials that Art Things has always offered—paints, canvases, drawing materials, books, and the like— but also discover new products that Brown and Powell plan to stock, such as resins and molds to make casted pieces and mural-making materials including Spitfire Pro-Acrylic Spray Paint, Brown’s just-announced proprietary line of eight limited-edition spray paints.
The pair plans to “reinvigorate and activate the space,” said Powell. This will include expanding the store’s gift offerings, from hand-crafted candles to greeting cards, plus new services like bespoke gift wrapping and packaging. They want to make the store “feel more like a home than a business” by restyling it with what Powell refers to as “FFE” (new furniture, fixtures, and equipment) and, of course, new art.
“We know that you can go to Amazon.com, find almost anything that you can think of, and come home to a bunch of boxes at your doorstep a few days later,” said Powell. “But Art Things has always been and will continue to be about the experience—being able to buy from, ask questions of, and receive advice directly from an artist who’s incredibly passionate about all forms of art, just like you can order food that’s actually made by the head chef at the best restaurants, and to also get the high-level customer service that you expect when shopping boutique brands.”
Brown’s goal is that Art Things becomes a place where all people, especially youth, are exposed to all kinds of art. “We want to bring all of the arts to all of the people,” said Brown. “Hopefully we will not only spark their curiosity about creating art, through our products, but also about society and culture, through exposure to my and my peers’ work.”
Brown and Powell have not announced a reopening date. “We’re extremely excited to open our door and welcome the Art Things community back, as well as start growing it, but we’re not quite ready to do so yet,” said Powell.
“But we promise it will be worth the wait,” added Brown.