Superior quality unifies exhibit of 'Public Treasures'

February 23, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

It might have been a jumble, a hodgepodge, a mishmash. But it isn't. It's a handsome and beguiling exhibit.

The idea behind "Maryland Public Treasures," which just opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art, was a good one. But it had a built-in potential pitfall. The idea was to gather art objects from all over the state -- from churches, historic houses, museums, historical societies, colleges . . . anything to which the public has some access. The curators, Sona Johnston and William Voss Elder III, put together a show including everything from formal portraits to quilts, communion silver to a rocking horse.

The potential pitfall? That putting all this together would result in a major case of visual incompatibility. Instead, thanks to the curators' ability to pick superior examples in all categories, the show looks fine.

The salient point about this show is that its works aren't just interesting as representatives of their various counties. They're interesting in their own right and will appeal to people with many tastes in the arts.

Those who like quilts will find three grand ones, including a Star of Bethlehem pattern that features a central star surrounded by 45 smaller stars. Those who like furniture won't find many pieces, but among them are a Federal period sideboard with inlay and a wonderfully elaborate Chippendale mirror.

Those who like silver will find the superb 1718-1719 four-piece communion service made by Thomas Mason in London. Also, a delightful tea and coffee service presented to Baltimore and Ohio Railroad chief engineer Wendel Bollman in 1859, its individual pieces covered with railroad motifs.

Those who like paintings will find Hugh Bolton Jones' charming "Pungies and Schooners Drying Their Sails in St. Michaels," John Singer Sargent's portrait of "Mary Elizabeth Garrett" and Frederick Childe Hassam's "White House, Gloucester," among other works.

And those who like the offbeat will find such items as a portrait of Abraham Lincoln done entirely in calligraphy, and the illustrated journal of William E. Bartlett, recording halcyon days in 19th century Talbot County. From an entry on crabbing:

"We would often start in the cool of the day, half an hour before sundown, and after going less than a mile, return with two to four dozen fat crabs. These we would have cooked for breakfast the following morning."

Crabs for breakfast? Why ever not?

ART REVIEW

What: "Maryland Public Treasures: The State of the Arts"

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets

When: Wednesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through April 17

Admission: $5.50 adults, $3.50 seniors and students, $1.50 ages 7 through 18, free on Thursdays

Call: (410) 396-7100

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