How do you solve a problem like Maria? You hold an art benefit Von Trapp sisters aid Harford needy

September 20, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Mention the von Trapp family, and most people think of "The Sound of Music," the 1965 movie based loosely on the real-life Austrian family that sang its way to freedom during Hitler's rise to power. But it is their painting, not their singing, that is drawing attention to the von Trapps today.

And Harford countians will get a chance to see it firsthand Saturday when Agathe and Maria von Trapp, two of the seven children who learned to sing from their governess-turned-stepmother, bring their paintings to Bel Air for benefit exhibit.

About 75 works of art -- mostly watercolors, monoprints and crayon etchings -- will be displayed Saturday at the Bel Air Athletic Club in a one-time show to benefit the Community Outreach Center in Churchville.

Agathe and Maria, now 79 and 77 respectively, will be on hand to meet visitors informally and share stories of their singing career as well as their less-known ventures into painting.

"I always enjoyed doing art," says Agathe, who has lived in Glyndon since 1958. "But I never expected to be selling it or exhibiting it."

The exhibit, the first of its kind involving the combined work of the women, opened at the Austrian embassy in Washington in June and later moved to Washington's International Club, where it will continue through Friday.

The von Trapp children won fame in "The Sound of Music," in which the young governess, Maria, teaches her charges to sing, marries their widowed father and leads the family over the mountains to freedom from the Nazis.

In real life, the family grew by three children after the marriage of Maria and Georg von Trapp,and the family sang throughout Europe before the war broke out. In 1939, the family came to the United States and settled in the mountains of Vermont, where the family run lodge still exists.

During the 1940s and '50s, the Trapp family made a living as singers traveling across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. When the group broke up in 1956, the children, by then grown, went their separate ways.

Young Maria became a lay missionary in New Guinea, where she taught and sang until 1987. Agathe moved to Glyndon, Md., where she opened a kindergarten affiliated with Sacred Heart School in 1958. The kindergarten is still operating, and Agathe still teaches art there every morning.

"All the time we were traveling and doing concerts -- for 20 years -- I had my sketchbook out," Agathe says.

When she was 14, she says, her father hired an Italian watercolor artist to teach her sketching and watercolors. Later, as an adult, she often spent vacations in Vermont taking art lessons and painting on her own.

Most of Agathe's work in the show consists of landscapes and still-lifes done in watercolors and crayon etching.

Maria von Trapp's art is less studied. Most of the abstract landscapes in the exhibit were created during her missionary days in the 1960s. She won't reveal the details of her technique but says the monoprints were done with simple finger paints and water.

"I used to do them to make greeting cards," she says. "I didn't intend to draw anything special, but if something beautiful came out, I might cut out the most beautiful part and frame it."

Those framed originals were well received by the public, however. She sold many of them years ago to raise money for the nurses at the native hospital in New Guinea. Now, she says, if she sells any originals, the money is used to send an African student that she has adopted through school.

Maria now lives in Waitsfield, Vt., where she retired in 1987, the year her stepmother, Maria, died at age 82. Seven of the 10 von Trapp children are still living, all but one in the United States.

The three-hour show in Bel Air Saturday will benefit the Community Outreach Center, which works with 35 churches to provide food and clothing to needy families throughout Harford County.

"It's hard to do something for the homeless that's not just a drop in the bucket," says Agathe. "You can always give a few cans of food or clothing, but an occasion like this can do more. This was an opportunity for us to raise a significant amount of money."

The exhibit runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Bel Air Athletic Club. Admission is $8 and benefits the Community Outreach Center.

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