Builder also paints Art and luxury homes: The oil paintings of Richard Jenkins often grace the luxury homes his companies build. Mr. Jenkins frequently gives a customer one of his works.

January 14, 1996|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ten richly detailed oil paintings of country life hang along the walls of a loft in a pricey three-story model home called the Saratoga in Carroll County's new Challedon golf community.

Both the model home, which sells for more than $400,000, and the paintings are the creations of Richard Jenkins, a builder with more than 40 years' experience and an accomplished painter.

Mr. Jenkins, a co-founder of the Columbia-based Ryland Group, is president of H. R. Jenkins and Mount Bay Homes builders in Carroll County, which offer custom-built homes, subdivisions, renovations and historic restorations.

Over the last five years, his companies have developed eight communities in Baltimore, Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties.

The model homes in those communities double as art galleries, displaying 60 or so of Mr. Jenkins' paintings. The H. R. Jenkins brochure is adorned with an illustration by Mr. Jenkins of a pair of wrinkled hands whittling a chunk of wood.

The 58-year-old bookish builder, whose works have been displayed in juried shows in Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties, first studied art 13 years ago with Columbia artist David Zuccarini. The builder now studies weekly at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, where his art has been exhibited.

His portraits of an aging carpenter gazing out a clapboard window, of a child struggling to drink out of a brick water fountain, and of a hefty Civil War re-enactor eating beans beside an outdoor stove often become an icebreaker between an anxious sales staff and a skittish client unacquainted with the companies' work.

"Customers will come in to talk about a home and usually ask about the paintings, or the paintings are used by the salesperson as a starting point," said William Borrelli, vice president of H. R. Jenkins and Mount Bay Homes.

Although his art commands prices from $250 to $2,500, Mr. Jenkins frequently gives away paintings to homebuyers taken with his work.

"There are no starving artists' sales," said Mr. Jenkins, a father of two and grandfather of five who lives in Frederick County with his wife, Edie, a self-employed interior designer who decorated the Saratoga.

"If a customer falls in love, we try to sell it to him. But I've given away more than I've sold to those who really appreciate it."

On occasion, clients and co-workers commission a portrait.

Two years ago, Larry Helminiak, owner of Carroll Insulation Co. in Eldersburg, hired Mr. Jenkins to paint a composite of his late father at work at his Highlandtown grocery after Mr. Helminiak saw Mr. Jenkins' portrait of a laborer.

"I gave him a handful of old photographs of my father at his store," said Mr. Helminiak, who has subcontracted for Mr. Jenkins since 1969.

"I took the painting to a family reunion. It was pretty emotional. We saw my father in a picture that never existed."

Mr. Jenkins uses his artistry to guide insecure homebuyers through the process of custom building and restoration, mapping out a house's detail and design while dissuading clients from mixing one period with another.

"They'll ask us if something fits this style, but we'll tell them if it won't work," said Mr. Jenkins, who also fashions handcrafted mantles and woodwork.

For the Saratoga Colonial, he reconstructed the louver and siding taken from an old barn and built a 3-foot by 4 1/2 -foot wooden art piece that hangs over the dry stacked stone #F fireplace in the 18-foot-high family room.

A recently built Baltimore County Colonial features woodwork simulating the millwork of traditional Williamsburg moldings, while new molding in a 1993 Frederick County renovation/restoration was designed to match the home's original 1769 trim.

To keep abreast of the detailing found in traditional and historical houses, Mr. Jenkins researches architectural books and takes a camera along on outings through historic districts in Philadelphia, Williamsburg and Georgetown.

"Customers rely on Dick for accuracy and authenticity of details, like on a period Williamsburg home," Mr. Borrelli said. "People want details -- down to the hinges on the door."

Mr. Jenkins' creativity is a hallmark of his nontraditional designs as well.

Three years ago, Peter and Katherina Parr of Carroll County contracted H. R. Jenkins to help design and build a Swiss-Bavarian house out of flat log from Montana, Aswan granite bought in Alexandria, Egypt, and 25 tons of mahogany shipped from Liberia.

"We had an interest in making the home as unique as possible," said Mr. Parr, an international development consultant in Washington.

"We were looking for someone with innovative ideas who could translate them into a very high quality and unique home. Dick is very innovative. And he is an older gentleman who is knowledgeable about his trade.

"He thought unusual thoughts about design, lighting, public space, private space and colors that would blend into the surrounding forest."

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