Water reflects essence of Essex Festival: Much-maligned coastal town showcases its role as a keeper of natural beauty.

September 07, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Linda Amtmann displays her passion for the Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore County's waterways on colorful castaways.

Using bushel crab baskets, door panels, flooring and boat parts found on shorelines, Amtmann paints waterfront scenes: historic lighthouses, a snow goose floating in a marsh, the Crisfield dock, work boat napping at anchor.

As she converts pollution into art, Amtmann -- one of the featured artists at Sunday's Coast-weeks celebration in Essex -- hopes to erase images of the stereotypical Eastside resident as a beer-swilling, tattooed redneck.

"The other face of Essex and Middle River is far more accurate and much more interesting," said Amtmann, who lives on Jordan's Creek, a peaceful cove along the county's 173 miles of shoreline. Her work is popular at Eastern Shore crafts shows and has been exhibited in Florida, Virginia and the Carolinas. The Coastweeks festival at Rocky Point Park, at the end of Back River Neck Road, is part of a national observance focusing on the beauty, diversity and value of coastal habitats.

The local festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature storytellers, decoy carvers, environmental displays, canoe rides and crafts and arts displays. Admission and rides are free. The rain date is Sept. 14.

"Most in this area have a deep affection for nature because we grew up on the waterfront," said Ellen Jackson, a community activist and Essex resident since 1945. "We have a natural appreciation for it because everything you do and say is %J somehow linked to the water."

The county shoreline is being watched closely by environmentalists because of plans by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III to use some of the shoreline for economic development, such as the proposed mini-Harborplace on Dark Head Cove and the nature learning center at Dundee-Saltpeter creeks in Chase.

"The appreciation for the water and wildlife runs deep here," said Betty Christopher, who lives on Sue Creek and whose mother moved to a shore home on Hogpen Creek in 1915.

"Fishing and crabbing were big -- it seems every kid knew how to work a row boat -- in the eastern county until people polluted the bay and our rivers," Christopher said. "But the water is making a comeback, but nature has to do it in her own time and we have to respect that."

Amtmann, whose art studio is in her home, fondly recalls her family history and reflects on a time when Essex was a patch of produce farms and commercial crabbers and fishermen.

"Before World War II filled the area with tens of thousands of workers for Martins and Bethlehem Steel, Essex was farm country and city folks sought cooler surroundings by the water in the summer," Amtmann said.

Those summer homes were referred to as shore shacks, one-story buildings with a kitchen and no plumbing. The property usually had a pier. "Mom and the kids would live in these summer places and dad would join them on the weekends," Amtmann said. "It was a different time when crabs and fish and ducks were plentiful and simpler things were more important material gain was not the biggest concern."

But times have changed and humans must be kinder to the environment. "We're not talking college degrees in the environment," Amtmann said. "People just have to remember that candy wrapper blowing around on Eastern Avenue can wind up in the bay."

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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