Originally created 04/10/00

Artist sees downtown growth



One of downtown Augusta's biggest cheerleaders happened to arrive at a time when it wasn't looking so hot.

It was 1991 -- a decade after suburban shopping malls decimated Broad Street commerce but still a few years before revitalization along the Savannah River would get Augusta's heart pumping again.

Andrea Stanton, a New Yorker who had spent years running an art gallery and design firm in La Jolla, Calif., moved to Augusta with her husband, Philip, when he took a job at Medical College of Georgia.

"We were looking for a new life in the South," she said. "Atlanta was too much like L.A."

She strolled through the shuttered downtown district and spotted a vacant two-story building at 1118 Broad St. The lease cost less than what she had paid in California, but she saw nothing but opportunity.

She renovated the dusty building -- with help from landlord Fred Harrison -- moved into the second-floor apartment and went to work on a ground-level studio.

When her Eclectic Design Gallery opened the next year, it helped set the stage for a number of other galleries, cafes and bars that eventually would turn the west end of Broad Street into one of the inner city's most vibrant sections. Today, it's known as Artists Row.

Ms. Stanton said she believes downtown Augusta -- with its vacant space, affordable rents and growing interest in revitalization -- can become even more vibrant, resembling a miniature version of Soho in New York or the Chelsea district in London.

"I pray for that here," she said. "We certainly have all the ingredients to make that possible."

Ms. Stanton was on the ground floor when San Francisco made its turnaround in the late 1960s; Sarasota, Fla., in the mid-1980s; and San Diego in the late 1980s.

She was born on Long Island, N.Y., and spent much of her youth soaking up Manhattan's many cultural offerings.

"I grew up on museum food," she says.

At 16, she began modeling at New York fashion shows. Then she "got intellectual" and began studying fine arts, particularly sculpture and painting.

Her art did not make her famous, but she held one-woman-shows in several U.S. cities, France and Brazil and has taught at the American Centre in Paris.

She stopped teaching to start her own interior design firm, Esoterica Inc., which specialized in producing fine art for posh Marin County, Calif., residential and commercial projects.

Ms. Stanton had always been fascinated by native art from the Pacific Rim, so tribal pieces became the niche when she started her gallery business.

She frequently makes acquisition trips to far-flung destinations such as Java and New Zealand and has friends in more than a dozen countries who keep her supplied with authentic tribal art. She has a line on old world antiquities.

Alongside the imports are works from prominent area artists such as Roger Finch, Priscilla Hollingsworth and Kathleen Girdler Engler.

"It's all eclectic," she said. "This is one of the few places you can see an African mask mixed with a European cross."

There are more than a dozen artists and gallery owners working and living along Augusta's main street. Businesses open and close almost weekly on Broad Street, yet most of the artists have remained.

Ms. Stanton acknowledges staying afloat hasn't always been easy.

"There's been times I felt like I would go down with the other people who have come and gone," she said.

She hasn't yet and she has no plans to either.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.