Plowden's field yields a rich harvest Art: Space, geometry, contrast and composition all play roles in the photographic exhibit now showing at UMBC's Kuhn library gallery.

October 27, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

For more than 30 years David Plowden has focused his photography on subjects that are slowly leaving the American scene: farms and country buildings, industrial sites, railroads and locomotives.

But subject matter in Plowden's photography is less interesting than formal issues to Tom Beck, curator of the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Kuhn library gallery. Beck's current exhibit of more than 60 Plowden photographs highlights such qualities as geometry and composition.

Plowden's play with space is one of the photos' highlights. Sometimes he creates infinite space, as in "Wheatfields near Great Falls, Montana" (1983), where a road recedes into the distance until it meets the sky. Elsewhere, he presents a stage-like space, with a wall as backdrop and an object as player on the stage; in "Gotebo, Oklahoma" (1969) a dilapidated old car takes center stage. The backdrop wall thrusts the object forward, adding drama to its presentation. In a few places Plowden eliminates space altogether. In "Barndoors" (1975), his close-up focus on a wall makes the image become two dimensional.

Other aspects of these works include the crisp contrast of black and white with a tonal range of grays, and the grouping of buildings to create geometric abstractions. An image such as the tour de force "Church, Saline County, Missouri" (1974), combines several of these approaches: abstraction, black-white vs. grays, shallow versus infinite space. There's much to respond to in this show.

The photography gallery is in the Kuhn Library building on the UMBC campus, 1000 Hilltop Circle. It is open noon to 4: 30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (until 8 p.m. Thursdays), 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

The Plowden show runs through Dec. 12. For information call 410-455-2270.

Spend time with 'Angels'

The Walters Art Gallery is looking for volunteers to help with its blockbuster exhibition "The Invisible Made Visible: Angels from the Vatican." The show of nearly 100 paintings, sculptures and other works showing the depiction of angels through the ages opens on Sunday, Nov. 8 and runs until Jan. 3.

The gallery seeks volunteers to help greet visitors, staff information booths, collect tickets and perform similar tasks. The jobs will involve attending one two-hour training session and working a two- to four-hour shift once a week for a total of four shifts during the show's run.

Volunteers will get a 10 percent discount in the museum store, a thank-you reception at the end of the exhibit, and the knowledge that they've helped a lot of people see the angels.

For information call 410-547-9000, extension 281.

A Maryland designer

Claire McCardell (1905-1958), born in Frederick County, rose to become one of the leading fashion designers in America in the 1940s and 1950s.

She pioneered affordable ready-to-wear clothes, made of strong materials, that were comfortable and versatile. She put denim on women.

She created an ensemble with different length skirts for day and evening wear. She combined the practical with the fashionable and in the process earned many admirers.

This Maryland contribution to the world of design is the perfect subject for a show to inaugurate the Maryland Historical Society's new costume and textile gallery. The show is called "Claire McCardell: Forging an American Style." Equally appropriate, the MHS has received a collection of McCardell clothes and other effects from her family, and has named the gallery after her.

Many who go to see this show will be interested in McCardell's fashion designs and the photographs that help to tell her life story.

But the design of the show itself, by curator Kohle Yohannan, deserves attention. Like McCardell's designs, it's both handsome and utilitarian, comfortable to wander around in and chic-looking.

Tones of brown, black and red set off the displays well, and McCardell's clothes are effectively complemented by drawings of people wearing similar designs.

The whole thing has a neat, tailored look entirely in keeping with its subject. There's a hands-on section where one can look at dress designs and handle the fabrics they were made of.

And happily the wall spaces are broken up with quotes from McCardell, for she was eminently quotable:

"I belong to a mass production society where all of us, any of us, deserves the right to good fashion."

"I need a dress that can cook dinner and greet guests, too... Don't you?"

"I do not like glitter, only fabric well-cut and beautifully constructed."

"First of all, I am a woman. Quite secondarily, I am a designer."

She'd have been a great person to know, and Maryland can be proud of her.

The Maryland Historical Society, at 201 West Monument Street, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. HTC Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4 adults, $3 seniors, students and ages 13 to 17. Call 410-685-3750.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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