Between The Covers
Album of American Traditions:
Folk Art Paintings by Carol Dyer
Reviewed by Sonia Linebaugh
In the early days of America, folk painters most often started out as sign or furniture painters. Their hallmark skills were legibility and unobtrusive brush work.
Contemporary folk painter Carol Dyer, who indeed started as a sign painter, proves the tradition endures in Album of American Traditions: Folk Paintings by Carol Dyer (Mystic Seaport 2004). Her entrancing townscapes of Annapolis, Boston, Bethany Beach and Washington, D.C. feature the historic style of flat, unobtrusive brushwork. The paintings are strewn with sign painting in plenty. On wagons, buildings and boats, read Annapolis Tours, Maritime Museum, The Pride of Annapolis.
But Dyer’s work isn’t really about signs. It’s about community in the guise of history. Charm, good humor, precision and American spirit are the attributes the Maryland resident brings to her paintings. Buildings and boats pile onto each canvas in precisely executed details — lettering, ornate sled runners, boat rigging, windows, wagon wheels — that dominate the 89 painted scenes.
Doll-like people, horses and dogs go about their 19th century business in towns as familiar as a Christmas train display. In one painting alone, I counted 35 boats and ships, 47 buildings with 111 plain or fancy windows, 53 smiling faces above old-fashioned dress, eight horses and one dog.
Historic Annapolis plays a prominent role. There are five versions of City Dock, as well as Church Circle, Maryland State House, Thomas Point and the Naval Academy. In all, there are 17 images of Annapolis. But the paintings are not just about the past. Dyer cleverly appeals to a contemporary audience with touches of today. In December Lights Parade, sail boats Dreamchaser, Full Moon and The Pride of Annapolis show their egos at City Dock, where an admiring crowd is dressed for a snowy night in 1890 and horse-drawn sleds park on Main Street.
Dyer’s album of paintings is strong on charm, but in a book just shy of 200 pages, charm wears thin through repetition. Sky, water and buildings viewed page after page, in their flat strong colors, excruciatingly patterned surfaces, generalized light, whimsical scale and proportion become interchangeable from painting to painting. Dyer’s work is fresher and more appealing seen one image at a time.
Buy the book and single versions of Dyer’s images at McBride Gallery, 215 Main Street, Annapolis. Book ($50); Christmas cards ($10.95 for 12); unframed photo prints ($75 up); prints of Annapolis Traditions, which benefits the Newman Street Park project of Rotary of Annapolis ($100-$300); gicleé prints ($300-400); framed originals ($2600-5200).