MUSIC AND ART
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
A Chestertown couple's love for each other fuels their creative process
Text by: Niambi Davis
Photos by: Pamela L. Cowart-Rickman
Paul and Inez Santori enjoy their time sharing music and art.
One night in October 2013, Inez Ware ran out of opponents while playing an online Scrabble game. This assistant vice principal at a high school in Chelmsford, England, was randomly matched with Paul Santori, an artist, singer and songwriter who lived in Virginia. Over time, and as she relaxed her “English reserve,” the pair exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. In 2014, Inez flew to Dulles Airport in Virginia to meet Paul. And the next year, in July 2015, the two married on a paddleboat in the Potomac River.
Fast forward to Jan. 2020. That’s when the couple, combining their passion for the arts, realized their vision of helping artists gain exposure by opening Tish Fine Art Plus on High Street in Chestertown. The gallery, which opened on Jan. 23, showcases artists’ work and emphasizes originality — with art represented from all media, in addition to handcrafted jewelry, fused glass, serving accessories and furniture.
Three years before they opened their doors, the Santoris were met by both challenge and opportunity. In 2017, Paul was diagnosed with leukemia. The couple had also made an exploratory trip to the Eastern Shore’s Kent County, which eventually led to the purchase of a home in Chestertown. They converted the basement of their new home into an art studio and music practice room and, as Inez recalls, “never looked back.”
“We were so taken by the scenery and welcomed by our new neighbors and the local community of artists that we felt we belonged here very quickly,” she says.
Getting involved with Chestertown RiverArts, an organization supportive of the arts in Kent County, was a natural progression for both. Paul began to hang his work and perform his music there, while Inez volunteered and after years away from art, began to paint. At the same time, the Santoris felt that local artists needed more opportunities to exhibit and to reach a wider audience. On a wintry walk down Chestertown’s High Street, they spotted a building under renovation.
“We were told it wasn’t ready, but neither were we,” Inez recalls. Gradually, the building took shape and Tish Fine Art Plus was born. According to Inez, the name “Tish” was a natural choice.
“I grew up a blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl whose aspiration was to be Morticia Addams,” Inez says of the character in the 1960s TV show The Addams Family. “For a time, I wrote a music and arts column called ‘Morticia’s Post Mortem.’ So, when it came to the gallery it seemed like a good idea for the name.”
The Santoris had a specific vision for Tish — they wanted to offer things that people perhaps couldn’t find elsewhere. Tish opened with an exhibit of a selection of Paul’s paintings and the work of five artist friends and a jeweler. By the end of 2020, Tish had shown the work of over 30 artists and artisans, including some from the other side of the Chesapeake Bay. The gallery emphasizes originality; all forms of media are offered, in addition to handcrafted jewelry, fused glass, serving accessories and furniture.
With 2021 came a new set of challenges. Paul became critically ill with COVID-19 and pneumonia. When he returned home after seven weeks in the hospital, Tish artists stepped up and ran the gallery while Inez, relying on the “practical and emotional support of friends,” stayed at home with her husband. When Paul was taken off oxygen and Inez was able to return to the gallery, “it was almost as if the gallery sprang to life,” she says. “It was a joy to be back.”
From April onwards, Inez says it’s been an exciting year with new artists and people coming in to show their work and to shop. She has showings scheduled until March 2022, including “Tish Artists Take the Stage” in February, with artists from New York, Chicago and the West Coast expected to hang their work in the gallery.
The Santoris believe their work is “all about the artists.” When they hold an open art show, the gallery can hang three or four of an artist’s paintings. Inez recalls the words of another painter: “There is nothing more gratifying than someone buying your painting, not for the money but because somebody likes your work enough to say I want that painting in my home.”
For that reason, the Santoris firmly believe “artists need a place” to show their work. For the couple and the artists they serve, Tish Fine Art Plus is that place.
Left: Their boho-eclectic gallery space on High Street in Chestertown
343 High St., Chestertown, Md.