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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Maryland Art

Bombardment of Fort McHenry Stamp, 2014, Greg Harlin
In continuing to look at the art of various states in the United States, the state of Maryland has a warm place in my heart. It was in a small town called Towson, Maryland, about 1968, that I first displayed paintings in a community art show. As I recall, they were two children's portraits. I can still picture one of them in my mind, but all names associated with them escape me at the moment. I do recalled getting some constructive criticism, "...there are no hard edges in painting," (not true, by the way). I was a young sergeant station with an air force unit at Ft. Meade, Maryland, at the time, serving out the final few months of my enlistment, while also taking classes at the University of Maryland in nearby College Park. I was not studying art but composition. I was learning I didn't know much about writing.

Maryland Folk Art, 19th-century
Western Maryland Railway at Dickerson
Run Yard (detail), Howard Fogg
Maryland art, like the state itself, is something of a dichotomy. Many states along the east coast have this trait in common. They have a densely populated sea shore culture, and a sparsely populated "pioneer" heritage toward the hill country of their western regions. The rural, conservative art culture clashes wildly with the urban, progressive, seashore idealism of the "arty" East. Baltimore is heavily Catholic and multi-ethnic, while the Cumberland "panhandle" is Pennsylvania German, poor, and Protestant. Only about four percent of Maryland's population lives in this area; and like so many states along the Appalachian divide, once you get past the folk art (above), sold mostly to eastern tourists, there just isn't much else to talk about. Art, by its very nature, demands a degree of affluence. There's little of that to be found in western Maryland.

Iceriders on the Chesapeake Bay, 2001, Charles Wysocki
Virtually every state boasts its historic input into its art, and Maryland has a lot of history to occupy its artists, from Greg Harlin and his Bombardment of Ft. McHenry (top) to Howard Fogg's Western Maryland Railway painting (above, right). Add to that the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and there are enough battle scenes to keep any artist so inclined busy for a lifetime. Even Maryland's folk art often goes back nearly two hundred years. Some of Maryland's history painting, such as Charles Wysocki's Iceriders on the Chesapeake Bay (above) looks to be much older than it actually is. This one dates from 2001.

Baltimore Museum of Art
The affluent "arty" Maryland.
Quite apart from the break between east and the west, Maryland also sports a "high" art and a "low" art. The high art resides in Greco-Roman style temples such as the Baltimore Museum of Art (above) while the low art finds its place along the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland (below). The former is staunch, if not stuffy, famous art by famous artists, most of whom died almost a hundred years ago. That art to be found in Ocean City's colorful galleries comes from artists still very much alive, clawing for every last tourist dollar to be found catching a few "rays" along the beach. Moreover, there's much more to the Maryland seashore than sun worshippers. It's called the Chesapeake Bay (right), and its art has come to be considered the iconic image of Maryland as a whole--boats and bridges.

Ocean Gallery of Art, Ocean City, Maryland--on the boardwalk.
Although the Maryland art world may seem to center around the Baltimore-D.C. corridor and it's colorful waterways, neither end of this axis is the capital city of Maryland. The political center of the state is the quietly colorful, quaint, colonial town of Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy, and some of the most authentic early American architecture (below) to be found anywhere in the state or even the entire country.

Annapolis, Maryland, 2014, (watercolor) Peter Art Gallery
Ocean City, Annapolis, in fact, anyplace along the bay (eastern or western shore) is justly famous for its seafood. Maryland seems to feel the Blue Crab is the state delicacy as depicted in the wildly detailed still-life by Maryland artist Jonathan Brown titled, Charm City Celebration (below). I'm no great lover of seafood, especially shellfish, but such a painting might make me change my mind.

Charm City Celebration, Jonathan Brown

Wherever there's a beach there's sand, and
wherever there's sand, there's sand sculpture,
though usually not something as strange as this.


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