An Art Odyssey
Serendipity melds mural artists with history
by Carrie Madren
Twists and turns of fate launched five Annapolis-area artists on a simple art project that turned into an odyssey. In Artwalk’s embryonic stages, large-scale mural artist Sally Wern Comport teamed up with organizer Chuck Walsh to bring modern public art to inner West Street.
Now, two years later, Artwalk begins to unveil 13 historic sites around Annapolis. The first mural went up on the Harbormaster’s building on May 17 for a three-year run coinciding with Annapolis’ Charter 300 celebration, commemorating our Maryland capital’s 300th birthday.
“It really evolved in a ridiculously serendipitous way,” says Comport. “The artists that found us, the artists we found and the eclectic nature of the artists … is something that couldn’t have been planned.”
The first mural hung on the Harbormaster’s brick façade was painted by Sy Mohr, one of Comport’s serendipitous encounters.
“People fell into our lives to make this happen,” says Walsh.
Mohr, 84, saw Comport’s large-scale mural on the Catherine Purple Cherry building at Rowe Boulevard and went inside to inquire.
A year earlier unbeknownst to Mohr Mayor Ellen Moyer suggested Mohr to Comport and Walsh as a candidate for the Artwalk component of Charter 300.
Comport collaged together 15 of Mohr’s smaller folk-art paintings of downtown Annapolis in a seamless mural illustrating history through the city times. Half a century ago takes the foreground, modern days the background.
Serendipity surfaced again in 2005, when signature Bay photographer Marion Warren who dined often at Sean Donlon’s on West Street saw another of Comport’s works hanging on the brick exterior of his favorite eatery.
Comport and Walsh worked with Warren, before he passed away last summer, to select six of his archived photographs to hang on the brick wall where he had first seen Comport’s mural.
Other artists came on board by fate, including George ‘Lassie’ Belt, who painted with seven to 10 children from the Stanton Center; and Greg Harlan, an illustrator for National Geographic.
“It’s turned out to be an odyssey more than an art exhibition from the personal to the bureaucratic,” Comport says.
Helping pay for the paintings, fees and materials, the city’s Art in Public Places Commission granted $70,000. Comport estimates the project will cost twice that, with the difference made up by private sponsors.
Weathering an Exhibit
When Comport and Walsh presented the idea of outdoor mural to the Historical Preservation commission, it didn’t go over so well.
“I was hesitant because of the historic character of Annapolis,” says Donna Hole, the city’s chief of historic preservation. “Perhaps once up, it’ll be okay,” says Hole. “But Annapolis is on the national registry of landmarks, and I was concerned about detracting from them.”
Comport was first turned away by the Historic Preservation Commission from mounting her art project the one that caught Marrion Warren’s attention on Sean Donlon’s wall.
Through compromise, the unprecedented public art project was permitted with conditions. It was limited to three years, to cover the Annapolis Charter 300 celebration. Also, the pieces were to be scaled down from Comport’s visions.
“We think we’re adding interest to the architecture and to the streetscapes, giving people access to history through art that they normally wouldn’t look at,” says Comport. “I worked with the walls enough to learn that the lines do have stories; the bricks do have stories. We wanted to accentuate and give light to that history.
Besides scaling down and adding a time limit, each piece’s place and subject serves up a lesson in history.
“Now, the art relates directly to historic content,” says Jessica Hay McCarthy, who’s helping get the Artwalk word out.
Bridging past and future is a high-tech reproduction process surfaced to withstand pelting water, high winds, blazing sunlight and clean up easily if graffiti artists strike. Comport and her brother, Steve Wern, spent over 30 hours turning the image of Mohr’s City Dock Harbormaster Collage into a weatherproof mural ready for outdoor life.
“We printed it on what looks like a giant inkjet printer,” says Wern, who helped enhance the prints with advanced technology in printing colors and sharpness.
Hanging the high-tech paintings is Corning Construction, the company that mounts works for the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The City of Annapolis owns each piece, including rights to use the images on brochures and pamphlets. Once the artwork has hung for three years, Comport doesn’t know where the works will go. works on private buildings, like the one on Severn Savings Bank, could possibly stay.
But for now, Artwalk coordinators are seeing their two-year odyssey safely in harbor.
Art in the Garden at Gallery 333
Find respite among a collage of flowers refocused as art
by Carrie Madren
After a hectic shopping trip at nearby Annapolis Mall or a frazzling commute on Route 50, seek respite at nearby Gallery 333 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. There, following the church’s wooden walkway flanked with iris, azaleas and nandina, you’ll reach a garden of art. This collection nearly two dozen garden-related works by six Maryland Federation of Art artists brings you back in touch with natural beauty.
In the church’s administrative wing, the gallery space lines the hallway walls, foyer and stairwell. On a recent weekday morning, the garden of art basked in the stillness.
For this exhibit at 333, artists redefine garden space. Gardens take shape in urban areas, sweeping landscapes, vegetable and forests. With an eye for the unexpected, a tiny tree pops up from a rain gutter in an urban building Dick Schneier’s Urban Spaces giclee print. Terra cotta tiles, metal pipes and historic brick frame this impromptu sprout.
Likewise, Scheier’s Spring Icon I captures an asparagus spear triumphantly burst through clumps of dried earth, like a monument erected in the soil.
Gail Higginbothan paints an oil pastel water garden into the gallery space. Her Lily Pond is a royal blue nook with floating lily pads. A closer look reveals hues of reds and yellows weathered into a calming scene.
Landscape as a garden features in Eva Carson’s oil on canvas East of Snow Hill, a sweeping panoramic landscape of horizontal lines: a field backed by a thin line of trees, a farmhouse off to the side and wispy clouds overhead.
Other artists conjure up floral images of traditional gardens, often interpretative in background and mood. Donna Rhody’s digital camera zoomed in on frilly fuchsia orchids in Conservatory Orchid II, vibrant and resonant on their three-by-four-foot canvas, which wraps the image around the sides.
Bill Jaeger plays on a wilder garden in his vibrant watercolor Red Impatiens where warm, rose-colored soft petals, lush stems and leaves seem to drift in lazy motion over a night-sky blue background.
On the softer side, Marietta Meigs Schreiber’s faint Primula obconica depicts a terracotta pot of pale-peach geraniums and their ruffled forest-green leaves on a large white background.
You can take any of the original artwork home with you for $250 to $900, but shop a stack of prints more reasonably priced at $15 to $150 for artists renditions of water lilies, sunflowers, sailboats and petunias.
Art in the Garden shows through June 30, 10am-3pm M-F; 12:15-1pm Su @ Gallery 333, Unitarian Universalist Church, (take North Bestgate Rd. to Dubois Rd.), Annapolis. 410-266-8044.