The human imprint of urban life as art

JACQUES KELLY

August 02, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

When Jacob Glushakow paints Baltimore, the sidewalks are cracked, the shops offer second-hand clothing and the people look as if they'd known hard times.

A comprehensive new exhibition of his works over a 60-year span reveals this painter's eye for Baltimore and her sagging people.

Far from being depressing or sarcastic, the show mounted by the Jewish Historical Society is a brilliant testament to a way of urban life that has all but evaporated today.

"An Eye for East Baltimore: Paintings and Drawings by Jacob Glushakow" is just that, a perspective that sees beauty, dignity and peace in a quiet morning trip to the neighborhood grocery store.

"The scenes of Baltimore appealed to me. I never thought I was preserving history," said the 79-year-old artist while seated in the living room of his comfortable Mount Washington home, where he lives with his wife, Riva. Just behind the garden is a wooden barn where he has built a studio on the second floor, a chamber dominated by his easel, jars of well-used brushes and years worth of sketches and painting.

When asked about his painting, he quotes from the poet Wordsworth. He calls his pictures, "emotion recollected in tranquility." Indeed, his subjects are quiet, not flashy or stylish or assertive. His Baltimore is a Baltimore that is not trying to prove anything to anybody.

Most of Glushakow's sketches are commonplace city scenes -- an old doorway, a junk store with its wares piled on the pavement, the corner of Gay and Orleans streets, a light dusting of snow on some row houses, a hanging scale atop a basket of turnip greens at a sidewalk market.

"Looking at my old drawings I can get the feeling of the instant I was there," he said.

He loves the old city markets that once drew customers who carried the same sort of wicker baskets he hauled for his mother. For years, he has painted the quarter and fifty-cent transactions for carrots and potatoes outside the old wooden-sided Lexington Market or the Hollins and Broadway markets. He was drawn to the now vanished wholesale markets at Lombard Street and Market Place and at Dover and Hanover streets.

He grew up close to the merchants of the 1000 and 1100 block of E. Lombard St., the shopping heart of the old Jewish neighborhood and made many paintings and sketches of the area.

"What I remember of Lombard Street is that there were always lots of people around, the hustle and bustle. . . . The awnings [in front of the shops] always had a tattered look. The awnings were shredded and the people look shredded too. . . . This stuff looks lived in. You know, it has a human imprint. It's like the paintings of Canaletto. You have marketplaces with tattered awnings and stalls with canvas. Today, a supermarket all polished with chrome doesn't appeal to me," he said.

He went to the old East Baltimore Public Schools, No. 2 on Central Avenue, No. 93 just up the street, then No. 40 and finally City College, which is now on 33rd Street.

"I was an indifferent student, but I was always sketching and doing little drawings for 'The Green Bag' [City's yearbook] and getting encouragement from Dr. Leon Winslow, the head of art education.

"I also went to the old Jewish Educational Alliance and the Pratt Library, first at Branch 11 on Central Avenue, then to the art department which was then in an old house facing the cathedral. I think I learned more about art at the Pratt Library than anywhere, even the Arts Students League in New York where I got a scholarship," he recalled.

Glushakow is the oldest of 11 children. His parents left the Ukraine days before the outbreak of the First World War.

They sailed to the United States via Bremen on the steamship Brandenburg.

"I learned I was born on the ship when I was 12 or 13 and wanted to sell newspapers. My mother took me to City Hall to get a badge that all newspaperboys had. There it was revealed I was born on the ship. So I got the badge and also got to ride on streetcars to hawk my wares," he said.

The exhibit of his works may be called "An Eye for East Baltimore" but not every grouping of picture is connected to the neighborhoods off Lombard and Baltimore streets.

There's a delightful section on the Reservoir Hill neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore.

Many of these scenes date from the artist's residency there.

"I used to visit Mr. Gold's tailoring shop. It was on Whitelock Street near Park and Brookfield. I liked the place -- it was so chaotic looking. It made Mr. Gold nervous for me to be in there. He seemed stunned that anyone would want to sketch the place. His reply was, 'It's not pretty in here. Go across the street to Mr. Shapiro's.'

"One day I dropped by and Mr. Gold wasn't in. Only the fellow who pressed pants was there. I got 15 minutes without being chased out. I came back on Sundays when he was closed and looked through the window.

"I was struck by the slightly chaotic look of it, clothes piled everywhere. The way the clothes hung there like bodies hanging, it does look like something grisly. I liked this subject more than anything, the feeling of people and the dilapidated scene," the artist said.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 9 at the Jewish Historical Society's Jewish Heritage Center, Lloyd and Watson streets.

Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

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