War of 1812 springs alive from easel in Dundalk

October 14, 1990|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

In Dundalk, on the dusty second floor of the police station, a young man has spent nearly two years working in solitary confinement.

The confinement, however, was voluntary, and Robert Miller doesn't regret a minute of it.

The young artist spent the time on a 12-foot-by-7-foot painting of the Battle of North Point, in which Maryland militia turned back a British invasion on Sept. 12, 1814, during the War of 1812.

The huge painting shows U.S. Gen. John S. Stricker, against a dramatic blue sky with threatening clouds, seated on a rearing horse and addressing a platoon of men preparing to charge.

It will soon be hung permanently in the North Point Government Building, which houses the police station and other county agencies.

What moved Mr. Miller to spend almost two years of his life paintinga battle fought in another century?

"I love art," explained the 20-year-old artist, a quiet fellow with a ready smile and an unassuming attitude.

So much does he love art that when he plunged into the project asa student at Patapsco High School, he decided to give up another love -- sports.

The former varsity soccer and baseball player said he knew there would be no time for that.

There was also no time for the customary senior partying, but Mr. Miller said he never did much of that, anyway.

"I did homework, and I did art," he said. "Actually, I did more art than school. But it was really exciting. I love to paint."

It all started when Mr. Miller was approached by Joseph Berry, a work-study teacher at Patapsco High who matches students with jobs in the community for which they can earn credit.

The police wanted something to be hung on the wall in their lobby, and they came to Mr. Berry, who already had a working relationship with people at the station.

Mr. Berry got in touch with William Roth, chairman of the art de

partment at the high school, and they settled on Mr. Miller as the ideal candidate.

They told him that in addition to doing something for the community, he could earn high school credit for the work.

Mr. Berry said he was surprised when Mr. Miller agreed to under-take the project, only recently completed.

"I was absolutely amazed that he would be willing to give up his time," Mr. Berry said.

It was the challenge that interested Mr. Miller, who was a student in the gifted and talented program in Patapsco's art department.

Now a sophomore at the Maryland Institute of Art, he said the only time he took off from working on the project was during his first year of college.

"This was the biggest thing that I have done," he said, glancing lovingly at the painting, which is still on the empty second floor of the policestation.

When the project began, it was suggested that a historical map of Dundalk would be a nice addition to the government building and that the drawing could be a group effort between Mr. Miller and other Patapsco students.

But Mr. Miller had other ideas.

"Since this was North Point, I came up with the idea" of painting the battle, he said.

He also told his teachers that he wished to go it alone.

"I don't mean to be selfish," he said. "But I'm an artist, and it's a thrill to see the finished work and know that I did it."

Before he began the work, he had to spend hours researching the battle at the local library and the Maryland Historical Society.

The painting, unveiled during this year's Defenders' Day celebration honoring the U.S. victory at North Point, is an acrylic done in three panels.

Area stores donated the paint and art supplies, while Patapsco's work-study department donated money from a fund-raiser.

Mr. Miller said it was a joy to work on, but he's glad to be finished.

"It was a relief and like ecstasy to have it done," he said.

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