Canvas-ing the state to preserve its look


September 12, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

Toting canvases, paint boxes, brushes and pencils, the three friends set off annually to look for Maryland. One year, while staying at a Deep Creek Lake cottage, they found the mountainous countryside of Western Maryland. The next year, they discovered the Eastern Shore. Last year, on a series of day trips to the Western Shore, they found Deale, Cobb Island, Galesville, Shady Side and other waterfront treasures.

"We go for a week and just paint all day long and eat out at night. Our families survive," says Francisca Verdona Kan, a Chevy Chase painter.

And in their art, Maryland's cultural and geographical diversity also survives. This month, the work of Ms. Kan, and friends Lee Casey and Jill J. Cantrill, is featured in "The State of the Art," an exhibition that opens today at the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in Bethesda and continues through Oct. 10. The show was curated by Millie S. Shott, the center's visual arts coordinator.

Through the eyes of the seven artists represented in the show, Maryland's rural and urban realms are celebrated with vivid focus: its villages and former villages transformed by runaway growth, its miles and miles of marshland and waterfront, its wildlife and sporting life.

Together, the paintings, drawings and photos attest to Maryland's visual riches.

With thick, vigorous strokes, Ms. Kan revels in the man-made geometry of a ramshackle barn, or a crooked paddock gate collapsing slowly into the natural landscape. A resident of Montgomery County for more than 30 years, she also paints the old storefronts of Kensington and Bethesda, occasionally juxtaposing them with the skyscrapers that now dwarf them in absurd fashion. One painting is titled, "Bethesda, What Happened to You?"

While working in the country or in the city, Ms. Kan avoids the "booby trap" of painting merely pretty pictures which may rob a place of its true character. "You have to find whatever it is [that sets a place apart], whether it's a cement plant or a lumberyard," she says.

Bill Schmidt, another participant in "The State of the Art," is a landscape painter from Rockville who looks for small towns endangered by development. In impressionistic landscapes, he documents places like Middletown, Frederick, New Windsor, Boonsboro, Burkittsville, Spa Creek and Hooper Island when the light is exceptional and the towns seem to exist -- insular and immortal -- apart from the rest of the world.

"I have found that relatively few people in the Washington metro area are familiar with these towns and hopefully the exhibition will inspire some people to visit these towns before it's too late," Mr. Schmidt says in a prepared statement about his contributions to the show.

In a number of extraordinary paintings, Robert Wieferich captures the thrill and the peace of Maryland's wealth of recreational opportunities.

"Geese Flying" evokes the moody tones of an Eastern Shore autumn, when the horizon seems to stretch forever. The geese are small against the big sky.

Mr. Wieferich's "Winner's Circle" celebrates a victorious thoroughbred and his jockey, and "Fly Fisherman" singles out a transcendent moment on a secluded, sun-dappled brook. The heat is palpable in Mr. Wieferich's "Golden Gloves Tournament," a watercolor in golden hues inspired by a boxing match in Hillcrest Heights.

Bobbie West's horse sculptures, welded of found materials, appear to race with inherent movement, as they speak of Maryland's long affinity for equestrian events. Another sculpture a horse prancing for the sky was carved from the artist's father's apple tree.

Baltimore makes a strong appearance in "The State of the Art." John Crandall's stark black and white photographs explore the city's many faces with shots of Federal Hill, the Inner Harbor and a grim view of anunnamed, tumble-down neighborhood. That photo is called "Going Home."

Two abstract aerial views of Baltimore's harbor area by Ms. Casey move dynamically in and out of register according to the viewer's proximity. And there is Ms. Cantrill's charcoal drawing of the Constellation and the Chesapeake docked at the Inner Harbor, completed at home through a series of several on-site drawings and a photograph.

"What fascinated me was the skyline of all the buildings and the two ships lying there safe and snug in that horseshoe curve [of the harbor]," Ms. Cantrill says from her Bethesda home.

Visitors to Strathmore Hall Arts Center will find more than an artistic homage to Maryland. Well hidden from bustling Rockville Pike, the center is also a lively spot for art exhibitions, concerts, plays, dances, literary lunches, educational programs and lectures, as well as a season of afternoon teas. Surprising sculptures, including a huge snake in a tree, grace its considerable grounds, where the North Bethesda Festival takes place Oct. 10.

This year, Strathmore Hall is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a cultural arts center. Built originally as a country mansion in 1902 by Capt. and Mrs. James Oyster, the majestic building changed hands several times. Sold in 1943 by its second owners, Strathmore Hall served as a school and residence for the Sisters of the Holy Cross. After 34 years, it became the temporary headquarters of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

In 1979, Montgomery County bought the mansion and later turned it over to the nonprofit Strathmore Hall foundation to operate as an arts center.


The artists who contributed to "The State of the Art" will present a walk-through lecture at Strathmore Hall at noon. Call (301) 530-0540 for free reservations.

Strathmore Hall Arts Center is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free. The center is at 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda.

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