Centuries-old maps display rare beauty Exhibit: At the Maryland Historical Society, early state maps include whimsical details and historic landmarks

Fine Arts

July 07, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Maps, made to be useful, can also be beautiful. And fun. In John Ogilby's 1635 map of Maryland, the map itself is almost overshadowed by the spectacular coat of arms of Lord Baltimore on the right. The arms in red, white and blue are shown between two handsome leopards and under a crowned helmet sprouting a baroque display of green foliage.

The map itself is dotted with cute little green trees, presumably representing forests, and drawings of mountains appear on both sides of the bay. If there were mountains on the Eastern Shore in the 17th century, they have long since subsided, leaving the shore in its present pancake-flat state.

Ogilby's map and some 60 others of Maryland and Baltimore produced between the late 16th and the mid-19th century appear in the Maryland Historical Society's fine exhibit "Mapping Maryland: The Willard Hackerman Collection." Hackerman, chief executive officer of the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, has been collecting Maryland maps for 15 years and has amassed what the show's catalog calls "one of the finest collections of Maryland-related printed maps." This is its first public showing.

It contains numerous examples of either historical or aesthetic importance. John White's 1590 map of Virginia includes a crude depiction of the Chesapeake Bay, but the first on which the name appears, albeit spelled Chesepiooc.

The famous Capt. John Smith of Jamestown explored 2,000 miles of the bay's coastline before producing his 1612 map, which was the touchstone for 60 years. Other maps were derived from it, notably Dutch cartographer William Blaeu's elegant and lavishly colored 1630 version. The Smith map was superseded in 1673 by Augustine Herrman's meticulously researched "Virginia and Maryland," now extremely rare and represented here by a reproduction.

The MHS has done a first-rate job of exhibiting the collection, dividing it into themed sections ("Defining Borders," "Maryland Among Its Neighbors") and providing visual variety with material from its own collection, including documents, portraits, surveying equipment and even a stone Mason-Dixon line boundary marker.

Baltimoreans will naturally be drawn to the section on Baltimore maps, and especially to the Thomas H. Poppleton map, originally printed in 1822 and decorated with a border of local buildings, many of which remain landmarks including the Washington and Battle monuments, the Basilica of the Assumption (formerly Catholic Cathedral), First Unitarian Church, Davidge Hall and St. Mary's Seminary Chapel.

The Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (to 8 p.m. Thursdays), 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4 adults; $3 seniors, students and ages 12 to 17. The map show runs through Sept. 13. For information, call 410-685-3750.

Leaycraft's collages

Cathy Leaycraft's haunting, surreal photographed collages have justifiably earned an ever-widening audience. Her images now reside in New York's Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art, London's Victoria and Albert Museum and other distinguished collections.

Her works combine people, statuary, flowers and vivid skies to produce intriguing, ambiguous allegories that might be about love or loneliness, death or redemption, nurturing or alienation.

Until now her work has dealt mainly with women, but her latest series, now showing at Galerie Francoise, is totally devoted to men. And it's not a success.

Leaycraft is as skillful as ever at assembling an image, but she has made the fatal error of using as her human figures not anonymous models but people on the local art scene. That mistake reduces the whole series to an exercise in gimmickry and puts the viewer in the position of playing "name that personality," much as one does at those silly movies with 15 stars appearing in cameo roles.

If only one could overlook the familiarity of the faces in these works, but unfortunately it's just not possible. When one is confronted with painter Raoul Middleman, or Contemporary Museum founder George Ciscle, or photographer Carl Clark, or sculptor Paul Daniel, thoughts of larger meanings remain at bay.

Leaycraft compounds this fault with her heavy-handed use of sexual symbolism: a drill, classical columns, a table leg, asparagus spears, a telephone pole -- enough already. And there's the title of the series, "The Illusion of Masculine Form," which seems to be an attempt to insult all the people who posed for her in one fell swoop.

Leaycraft's a fine artist, so this surely counts as an aberration.

Galerie Francoise, Green Spring Station at Falls and Joppa Roads, is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. The Leaycraft show runs through July 14. For information, call 410-337-2787.

Art of the needle

"Common Threads: Conference and Show on Contemporary and Traditional African American Needle Arts" will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Columbia Inn in Columbia.

The show, of quilts and wearable art by about 15 local and out-of-state African-American artists, will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Admission is $5.

The conference will feature two classes, each lasting both days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A class on quilted coats will be taught by Rachel Clark and a class on paper piecing by Bernice Clarke. The fee for each class is $100.

The Columbia Inn is at 10207 Wincopin Circle in Columbia. For more information, call Barbara Pietila at 410-945-6863.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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