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Volume 13, Issue 20 ~ May 19-25, 2005
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On Exhibit
photo by Sonia Linebaugh
Port Republic artist Mimi Lacouture Little laments the demise of Southern Maryland tobacco barns: for their history, their beauty and their revocation of the farmer’s role in the local culture.

Mimi Lacouture Little Evoking Maryland’s Vanishing Tobacco Barns
by Sonia Linebaugh

An activist-artist lends her hands to preserving a dying tradition

The familiar air-cure tobacco barns that line Southern Maryland highways and back roads are unique to the state. Most became obsolete in 2001, the year farmers were offered a pile of money through the state tobacco buy-out to stop growing their potent money crop.

Port Republic artist Mimi Lacouture Little laments the demise of the barns: for their history, their beauty, and their revocation of the farmer’s role in the local culture.

“I love barns and the whole process of farming, harvesting and selling tobacco,” she says. “I am amazed by the whole process, and how intensive it is.”

Little has taken her feelings into action, first by helping with the restoration of three tobacco barns, second by making them the subject of her latest painting series.

While photographing “the way light entered the barn between the slats, broken boards and tin roof,” Little became intrigued, but not limited, by what she saw. Rather than a picture of a barn, Little painted a complex interior that draws you into the spaciousness of the barn.

Her natural inclination is to use bright colors; and red-browns, turquoise-blues, ochre and magenta all find their way in alongside nature hues. The painted surface is scratched as with light raking across surfaces. Ovate shapes drawn in the rafters evoke the ghosts of tobacco leaves that have disappeared. Stenciled and incised letters identified these images as barn. Some offer the viewer a date from some long-forgotten past. Small photo transfers reveal details of the barns’ decline.

“I paint all over the canvas at once in patches of color,” she says. “Maybe a line to indicate the rafters. Color to bring light into it. Some paintings come quickly, and others take a lot of time and a lot of repainting.”

Little has painted since she was a child in Connecticut.

“I recently found a painting I made at age eight among my father’s effects,” she reports. “It was pretty good.”

From then until now the self-styled “activist artist” has painted whatever cause she is interested in, from land preservation and aid to artisans in emerging nations. For the past decade, that’s meant colors and textures of the cliffs near her bayside community, nearby Parker’s Creek. And the barns. And the people of Haiti.

“Once I started to put my ideas seriously into paint,” says Little, “I found it was scary. I like it. The paintings have become more personal.”

See Little’s paintings at Chesapeake Gallery, 445 Main Street, and Arts Council of Calvert County Gallery, next to Calvert country Market, both in Prince Frederick; and North End Gallery in Leonardtown, St. Mary’s County. Or through June 6, visit her one-person exhibition Vanishing Tobacco Barns at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 Union St., Alexandria, Virginia: 703-838-6711.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.