Volume 16, Issue 24 - June 12 - June 18, 2008

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Full Circle

ArtWalk’s last step in a yearlong journey to fill Annapolis streets with art

by Carrie Madren

It took a full year to hang Annapolis’s outdoor public art collection. In that time, ArtWalk co-chairs Sally Wern Comport and Chuck Walsh — plus four other artists — have adorned brick buildings and fences with art for all to see.

Comport’s Shaping a City completes the circle, bringing art to small-scale Newman Street Park, made friendlier with new sitting wall, benches and rain garden.

Over a 25-by-three-foot surface, Comport illustrates 10 working people from Eastport in blues, greys and oranges. Among them are a glassblower, a builder, an oyster harvester, a farmer and a seamstress. The wall is composed of four irregular side-by-side panels, bolted to the chain-link fence that encloses the park’s basketball court.

The yearlong journey has been moving, inspiring, playful and, at times, controversial. Up first was Sy Mohr’s playful montage of Annapolis through the times, displayed at the harbormaster’s building. Greg Harlan’s Naval warship went on the Naval Academy wall and Comport’s rendition of colonial currency-printer Anne Catharine Green added historic perspective on the Severn Bank Building.

Marion Warren’s moving black and white historic photos — blown up large as life — now grace sides of the Donlon building, the Annapolis Collection gallery and a private condo building on West Street. Lassie Belt and the Stanton Community Center’s children’s montage of black life proved controversial, as it was refused space on the county’s Arundel Center before finding a home across Calvert Street on a state office building.

Such art helps define a city’s unique character, says LeeAnn Plumer, director of Annapolis Recreation and Parks.

“The contribution of art to our lives goes beyond the balance sheet,” Plumer says.

“Art brought attention to a place that someone wouldn’t have noticed before,” says Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer. Eye-catching it is.

Comport completed the city’s circle of art with types of late-19th-century men and women who, she says, “physically and literally shaped the foundation of the city and life that’s here today.” These were people who labored to become property owners, she says, and some worked to gain freedom. In Eastport, they created a self-sustaining community for workers who built the Naval Academy, among other accomplishments. Comport calls the community the glassblowing center of the region.

She and her team strategically placed Shaping a City at Newman Park, close to the gateway to Eastport.

Activity, movement, life feature prominently in the last link in ArtWalk’s circle. Comport took inspiration from art produced by Works Progress Administration artists, who found jobs with the government in the Depression. In their paintings and sculpture, these 1930s’ artists made heroes of working people.

“I love to draw the hard-working figure,” she says. To illustrate activity, Comport avoided horizontal lines.

An active painting seems appropriate for its location — a park just off bustling Compromise Street.

We can browse our gallery of public art for another three years.

“We’ve reached our goal, our deadline,” says Comport, whose other current project is illustrating a book about another public artist — Gutzon Borglum — who carved Mount Rushmore. But Comport says she sees the completion of ArtWalk’s installations as the demarcation point for her next project.

That next project — which the ArtWalk team will tackle without taking a break — is Second Exhibit. In this public art undertaking, Comport and Walsh hope to help smaller community groups realize public art dreams.

“Art has the power to change communities,” she says. So Comport and her ArtWalk team hope to help community artists — seniors, students and others — get their art out on the street. Their galleries could be schools or other buildings connected to the artists.

“We want to highlight what is special and wonderful going on in the community,” Comport says.

A few projects are in the works. Comport has worked with Providence Center, which hopes to enlarge the work of its artists to outdoor, public scale. As well as potters, the differently abled artists of Providence Center are painters, still celebrating a recent show at Anne Arundel Community College.

“We want to make these art pieces shine and let people know that these artists are out there,” Comport says.

She and the ArtWalk team are also helping Bates Middle School students turn the chain link fence that separates the school from Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts into a canvas. Comport will print montages of student artwork, “that will walk, dance and levitate from the fence,” she says.

Comport’s team also hopes to work with Bates Senior Center. Also, works from Hispanic artists — coordinated and encouraged by Maryland Hall photographer Kirsten Elsner — may become public art with the help of Annapolis Maritime Museum.

It’s a new journey for ArtWalk, one that they’re again taking step by step.

“In the end,” says McShane Glover, chair of the Art in Public Places Commission, “it’s all about people and stories.”

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.