If a picture is worth a thousand words, then starting tomorrow, the Howard County Arts Council's "Ho Co Open" will display 80,000 words -- each shedding light on the county's diverse population.
The "Ho Co Open" -- which started as the First Come, First Hung exhibition more than five years ago -- invited residents to display their artwork in a six-week, nonjuried exhibition in Ellicott City that will be open to the public until Aug. 21.
"A lot of times, galleries will only open to professionals. This allows artists of all levels to display their artwork," said Jennifer Scott, the council's program coordinator. "We are trying to break down that image of a museum."
This year, about 80 residents registered their artwork -- sculptures, abstracts, portraits, landscapes and religious pieces.
And, all the artists insist, their creations are uniquely their own.
"Everyone has a story behind their art," said Coleen West, the council's executive director.
The exhibition began to take shape Friday as artists filed in to register their work, filling a room outside the gallery, clutching their creations and taking peeks at everyone else's.
Inside, council officials accepted the pieces, and, placing one next to another, had created an exhibit. Each piece was distinct -- here was a math problem, there a portrait of a young woman, an abstract called "Melba."
Ellicott City resident Ralph Baney decided to display his wood and rope sculpture, called "Figure." He said he waited 15 years for his block of wood from Carroll County to develop just right.
"You have to wait for it to season properly," said Baney, who spent a month on his work. "That is part of the professionalism."
He is planning to display the work this October in New York, but decided to unveil it closer to home. He said he did not have any particular image in mind when he created the 44-pound design, except that he wanted to explore the texture of the wood.
What started as 3 1/2 -foot-tall round block of wood is an unpolished art piece with five walnut-shaped cutouts and two rope pieces hanging from it.
"I just look at the wood, and the wood suggests what I should do," he said.
Baney valued his piece at $4,500, although he is not among the 64 artists in the exhibition who are selling their works. Prices range from $125 to $12,500.
Leighton Scott, who has lived in Columbia since 1970, drew on his six years as a NASA space scientist to create the $12,500 piece. "Galaxy One" is a 48-by-80-inch look at outer space, using acrylics and glitter. It is his first submission.
"This is more like the depth of space," said Scott, who spent four hours on the project. "My interest is in playing with texture and color and producing new surfaces I haven't seen before."
Scott, retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plans to devote his time to his art, which he hopes will make a lasting impression in the art community.
"There are very few artists in this area that specialize in large contemporary art," he said.
While many artists came to display their talent for the first time, others like 90-year-old Ellicott City resident Sotero V. Nieves were simply taking part in one more exhibit.
Nieves said that in his 66 years of painting, he has completed more than 500 works. He has had several exhibitions at places like the Howard Community College Gallery and Slayton House Gallery. But he needed a new challenge, so he is trying to sell "Mangos and Apples" in this year's exhibition for $150.
"This is the latest one," Nieves said of the still life of a bowl filled with mangoes and apples and a vase filled with orange tulips, all with a blue background.
Art "was just my natural inclination," said Nieves, who said he has seven children, 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Tamara Jones of Ellicott City did not let a week-old baby stop her from getting her creation -- "Stainless Reflections in Blue" -- to the exhibit. She simply sent her husband with it.
"This was her last piece before she was ordered to bed," said Kyle Jones, Tamara's husband, while holding her landscape. Art "is what she wants to do."
Perhaps the most unusual piece in the gallery was a tire with XTC light colors splashed all over it.
The artist, Julie Susanne of Columbia, said it would be too complicated to describe her design.
"There's just a lot of emotion to it," Susanne said. "It's very ugly. That's what it was meant to be." She titled the piece "Not Down the Same Damn Road With(out) You."
"The work took one year," Susanne said. "The idea -- 14 years."
Officials say the diverse artwork reflects the county's strong arts community. Residents' affluence and high level of education help draw large audiences and create high demand, said Ronald X. Roberson, Howard Community College's division of humanities chairman.
"We do have a highly educated community, and I do think it reflects in the art," West said. "We attract a lot of distinct artists."
Roberson said this has led to a high number of galleries -- nine -- in the county. He said exhibits like this give professionals an opportunity to "discover" residents.
"It reflects Howard County in the diversity we have," West said, adding that the variety of art available "really speaks beyond the community."
But for most "Ho Co Open" participants, the exhibit was simply an opportunity to educate the county about their life experiences.
"The community puts on this show," West said. "It reflects county life."
The "Ho Co Open" will run daily from July 10 to Aug. 21 at the Howard County Center for the Arts Gallery I & II, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City.
Hours are Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Pub Date: 7/09/98