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The vision behind Wilton Drive’s latest gallery
Lesbian artist and teacher thinks the Island City holds a vibrant future art scene

Mar. 25, 2006

If you recently caught an episode of "Will & Grace" or "Six Feet Under" and noticed an eye-catching painting in the background, it may have been the work of Maxwell Britton. Britton has been commissioned to do artwork for the sets of several popular TV shows, including those two shows with huge gay audiences, as well as "CSI New York" and "ER."

Local residents and visitors can see Britton’s semi-abstract work at the Ellen Charapko Gallery at 2374 Wilton Dr. in Wilton Manors, Fla. Britton’s mother, Mary Ellen Charapko Britton, opened the gallery last month in the new development across the street from Galanga restaurant on Wilton Drive.

Mary Britton, a local lesbian artist and former art teacher, said she is proud to feature the work of her son, who is straight, as her first show. But she has also been talking to other artists, including a French photographer and two Latin American artists, about exhibiting in her gallery.

"I would love to have an installation that is a show-stopper, a sculpture or painting that dominates the whole place and stops people in their tracks," Britton says.

She says the gallery will focus on contemporary artwork. She is especially interested in exhibiting the work of local artists, and she doesn’t care if they are gay or heterosexual.

"The collectors won’t care about someone’s sexual orientation," Britton says. "They’re going to look at the quality of the art."

Art fairs on Wilton Drive?

Britton says she wants to work with other local gallery owners to transform Wilton Manors into another Las Olas, which is known for the plethora of galleries that accent its restaurant and nightlife scene.

Britton envisions an art fair on Wilton Drive like Las Olas’ annual event, or "art walks" like the gallery-sponsored evenings of special events and showings held on Lincoln Road and in Coral Gables.

"Wilton Manors needs some more culture besides bars and restaurants," Britton says. "It will take a while for a galleries to gain recognition. Wilton Manors is not known as an art community yet, but I think it could be known that way."

Britton says that Wilton Manors’ emergence as a restaurant and nightlife hub, and the growing number of people buying expensive properties in the neighborhood, are two important ingredients for supporting art galleries.

She noted the recent Home & Garden show that was held on Wilton Drive, and says she was impressed by the diverse crowd of people it attracted. The show included several exhibits of local artwork and crafts.

"I think the home and garden show helped the community gain recognition," she says. "It attracted people from other communities. We need people from Fort Lauderdale and other communities to come into Wilton Manors."

Currently, Britton’s gallery is one of only a handful in Wilton Manors. Art 15, located on 21st Court, Art Frenzie, on the southern part of Wilton Drive, and Art Expressions, farther south on Fourth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, are a few nearby galleries that Britton says she would like to work with in organizing an art street fair or walk.

"I don’t see why we couldn’t have an art fair to rival Coral Gables’ or Coconut Grove’s," Britton says.

Self-made art entrepreneur

A self-made woman, Britton never attended art school herself. But she was an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, where she taught graphic design, illustration and the business of art. In fact, Britton designed the business of art course for the school.

She also operated her own graphic design business, Britton International Graphics, for 16 years. The business, which she ran out of her home, focused on designing ads for national and regional publications. Britton served as president of the South Florida chapter of the National Graphic Artists Guild from 1988-1993.

Britton’s photography has won awards and appeared in various shows and publications. Her photos of France were exhibited at Stonewall Library & Archives in August 2003. That exhibit, titled "the Light and Dark of France," featured some haunting shots inside the Chateau Dif prison, the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ "The Count of Monte Cristo."

Britton says she wanted her son to have educational opportunities that she never had. Max Britton studied at the New World School of the Arts, a high school in Miami. He also attended the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he started out majoring in automotive design before switching to fine arts.

His series, "Desert Paths," which is currently at Britton’s gallery, was inspired by the landscapes and structures of the Southwest, including Yucca Valley, Calif., and Baja, Mexico.

Mary Britton says she recently contacted Art Circuits, a guide that lists art galleries in Miami-Dade County, and asked them if they would consider listing Wilton Manors galleries.

"The area has got to get into the gallery guides to bring in the serious collectors," Britton says. "I want to help put Wilton Manors on the art map."

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