Maryland walls, Maryland art Bylee Massey has seen to it that once-bare walls at the University of Maryland University College are home to the work of the state's artists


August 23, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Back in 1978, Bylee Massey had an idea.

Her husband, T. Benjamin Massey, had just become president of the University of Maryland University College, the state's higher-education institution for people in the work force. UMUC has 35,000 students worldwide, including 20,000 overseas and 15,000 in Maryland. Its headquarters are in College Park, and there it has an inn and conference center with spacious halls and acres of wall space.

Back in 1978, the walls were pretty bare.

As Mr. Massey remembers it, "My wife looked at the walls and said, 'My, this looks like a hospital.' " As Mrs. Massey remembers it: "This is a rather splendid facility. It was crying out for something to make it whole. I kept thinking, what might we do that would be mutually beneficial for the community and for UMUC?

"And I came up with the idea of trying to locate Maryland artists who would be interested in having their work shown here, and the idea just gradually developed."

Over two decades, the idea has become a collection numbering more than 300 works by Maryland artists active in the 20th century. The Maryland Artists Collection, which is owned by UMUC, now enlivens the halls of two floors of the center and other spaces on UMUC's campus. The center also includes a gallery devoted to four temporary shows by Maryland artists each year.

The collection is primarily composed of paintings, with some works on paper. There are a few sculptures; the larger ones are outdoors. While the subject matter of the works might include local landscapes, the collection does not limit itself to Maryland subjects. The works cover a wide range of contemporary art.

One of the most recent additions to the collection is "The Kitchen," a painting by the late Herman Maril, one of the most respected Maryland artists of the 20th century. It is being donated by the artist's family in honor of the Masseys as they prepare to retire from UMUC next month.

"As soon as we learned they were leaving, we consummated it," says Esta Maril, the artist's widow, who admires both Masseys and the job Mrs. Massey has done in building up the collection. "They deserve," says Maril. "They're idealistic, genuine and caring. When she [Mrs. Massey] thought of the idea, she didn't think, 'I'm going to get credit.'"

Maril has been so enthusiastic about the Masseys and the Maryland collection over the years that UMUC now has more than 50 of her husband's works, many given by or on loan from the artist's family. It is especially appropriate that Maril's works should be in College Park, since the artist taught at the separate but nearby University of Maryland, College Park for 50 years.

The Maryland Collection is composed of donated works, both by collectors and supporters of Maryland artists and by the artists themselves.

As Mrs. Massey tells it, the successful collecting strategy developed out of a lack of funds to buy art.

"The very first idea I had was trying to raise some funds to buy young artists," she says. "But University College didn't have a development office per se, and there was no mechanism for the fund-raising.

"But the collection quickly developed when we learned that there were collectors and supporters of the Maryland artists who were very happy to donate works, and that's when the focus changed. There were people like Jules Horelick, who had been buying works by Baltimore artists for years and years, and he was most happy to share."

Artists also, Mrs. Massey says, have often been willing to donate works for the opportunity to have them on view. Three-fourths of the collection is on public view at any one time.

"We like to hang as much of it as we possibly can, because that's one of the things we are trying to do for the artists," Mrs. Massey says. "Often the artists will come and visit and bring friends."

The center's gallery has four exhibits a year, most of them featuring one person, and the artists exhibited are offered a chance to donate a work if they like.

Frederick artist Andrea Burchette was given a show in 1996 and recalls it enthusiastically. "It was sort of a retrospective which encompassed about 10 years of work," she says. "They also have a video program called 'Art Talks' and produced a 14-minute video showing how I work, which has been seen on local television stations."

She gave the collection a work called "Newborn" but says, "It was certainly not a prerequisite for the show." She saw the collection, liked it, and wanted to be a part of it. "It includes works by people whom I admire, such as Raoul Middleman and Joan Stolz, and I thought they had good pieces there. And there were other pieces I just admired even though I didn't recognize the artist's name. I feel it's a very strong collection."

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