Picturing what grows in Maryland Exhibit: In paintings and photographs, the Maryland Historical Society celebrates the state's wild things.

September 28, 1996|By Diane Scharper | Diane Scharper,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Chesapeake Bay, the marshlands, the Atlantic beaches, the hills, the farm country and mountains are home to everything from the nesting osprey to the mantis shrimp. Pears, partridge peas, blood roots and black-eyed Susans grow here, as do cat fleas and fungi.

"Where The Wild Things Are: The Nature of Maryland," an exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society, contains nearly 200 portrayals of such flora and fauna, native to Maryland. Five collections -- four from the 19th century, one from the 20th -- form the backbone of the exhibit.

Here are Emily Spencer Hayden's watercolors of wildflowers, and here are watercolors of fruits by itinerant artists. The paintings record the abundance that startled one of Maryland's earliest explorers, Father Andrew White, in 1633: "... we cannot sett a foot, but tread on Strawberries, raspire, fallen mulberrie vines, acchorns, walnutts, saxafras ... The place abounds with pfit [profit], but also with pleasure."

That abundance can be seen in watercolors of mushrooms by Mary Banning (1822-1903), in William Keith Brooks' sketches of marine life and in Middleton Evans' photographs of birds, reptiles, amphibians and animals.

Punctuating each collection are furniture, silverware and everyday objects decorated with designs from nature. Especially pleasing is the basket of shellwork flowers by a Mrs. Delany, who wrote to her friend: "I've got a new madness. I'm running wild for shells."

Grasshoppers sit on snuff boxes, and foxes rest on parasol handles. Whimsical pieces by Adalbert Johann Volck, a multi-talented man who was a dentist, an artist, a silversmith and a woodcarver, decorate silver bowls and ladles.

The arrangement of the exhibit is also pleasing. A glass case containing Volck's silver bowl adorned with butterfly handles sits surrounded by Evans' photographs of butterflies. Behind the silver covered dish, decorated with lilypads and terrapin, sits the photograph of a diamondback terrapin. Through the glass, one sees a sort of visual echo.

Evans, considered Maryland's most prodigious environmental photographer, studies bird and animal life. He excels at rendering his subjects in their preferred habitats. His photographs bring you face to face with everything from a bald eagle to a bullfrog.

Hayden's paintings of wildflowers have delightful names such as teasel, dodder, hog-pea and false foxglove. A watercolorist and photographer, Hayden (1869-1949) was born in Randallstown and later lived in Baltimore City and Catonsville. She traveled across Maryland, painting flowers on site. But like the other artists in this show, Hayden did more than document. She created art.

The illustrations of marine life by scientist William Keith Brooks (1848-1908) show him to be a capable artist. One of the first biologists at the Johns Hopkins University, Brooks was an authority on the oyster. Living at Brightside on the shores of Lake Roland, he served as oyster commissioner from 1882 to 1884.

His scientific studies of oysters use watercolors, pencil, and pen and ink. Many of those illustrations appear in his book, "The Oyster," to be reissued by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Not only was Brooks the first to fertilize oysters artificially, he was also an outspoken champion of conservation. His words suggest the point behind an exhibit such as this one: "... For many years, we strove to hide from ourselves, that our indifference and lack of foresight and our blind trust in our natural advantages have brought this grand inheritance to the verge of ruin."

Wild life

What: "Where The Wild Things Are: The Nature of Maryland"

Where: Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument Street

When: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Through Oct. 6.

Admission: $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, and children 12 to 17. Free for members and children under 12.

Call: (410) 685-3750.

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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