Artist paints vanishing rural landscape

May 15, 1994|By Virginia Doyle | Virginia Doyle,Special to The Sun

You can find her works hanging in the county executive's office, in the gift shop at Ladew Topiary Gardens and in many Harford homes.

And if you wandered through the Federal Reserve building in Baltimore, you may have seen her paintings there, too.

She is featured in Bendann Art Galleries in Baltimore and Towson and may be seen in Artfully Done on Bel Air's Main Street.

The popular watercolor artist is Rita Cooper, a Harford County native, who grew up in the Edgewood area and attended schools there. She attended Villa Julie College and Harford Community College.

"These are scenes that I need to paint," said Ms. Cooper of a series of watercolors she calls "The Vanishing Farmlands of Harford County."

"I grew up in the Edgewood area and spent my childhood riding my pony all over the place. That's what I was known for. . . . I was the girl with the pony who rode everywhere. And now, I go back there and all of the places where I used to ride are gone.

"There are highways and shopping centers and homes and businesses. But no place to ride. The area is virtually unrecognizable to me now."

The changing landscape gave her an appreciation for the rural character of Harford County.

And her paintings depict that character -- rural, with a relatively small population and modest development.

"Most of the works are long and horizontal, as they encompass acres and acres of land," said Ms. Cooper. "I really want to capture the vastness of the scene. You are literally looking at miles of open space. And it's disappearing so fast."

For Ms. Cooper, the paintings are a way to preserve the county's rolling hills, scenic vistas and expanses of farmland.

She lives with her husband, Ron, and two sons, Chris, 9, and Jeffe,8, on 10 wooded acres in Pylesville.

"My studio reflects my life," says Ms. Cooper."I find my inspiration in nature and wildlife."

She is working on two paintings: a large floral piece featuring clematis from her deck railing and a fisherman at Deer Creek. She also is preparing for a one-person show at Bendann Art Galleries in Towson in October.

"I was actually commissioned to paint one farm twice," she says. "Once for the daughter of a farmer who saw the inevitability of future development, and then by her brother, who had moved out of state."

Ms. Cooper's paintings are priced from $400 to $600.

Many of the county scenes Ms. Cooper paints are first captured in photographs.She keeps her camera close by, often taking pictures as she rides around the county or works in her garden.

Ms. Cooper recalls an experience that led to her entry in the Baltimore Watercolor Society's Mid-Atlantic Regional Show in 1993.

It came as she walked down her driveway.

"I came around the corner, and my horse was nickering to me from the fence.

Behind him the sun was lifting the fog up through the trees, and the scene was stunning.

"Well, I ran into the house, grabbed my camera and ran all the way back. Of course, the lighting and the scene are changing with every second. But I caught it," she says.

That was the inspiration for "Ghost Horse," a picture that captured the beauty of nature. It is a portrait of what many see, but few experience.

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