Inspiration drawn from corporate site

Artists: More than 60 Baltimore County high school students escape the confines of the classroom and paint landscapes at an Owings Mills campus.

April 29, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

It may not have been Monet's gardens at Giverney, but the attractive wooded setting of an Owings Mills corporate campus was enough to fuel the creative energies of more than 60 young artists from Baltimore County high schools, who spent yesterday afternoon painting spring landscapes.

Budding artists escaped the confines of the classroom and staked out scenic spots for their canvasses along the perimeter of the pond behind Baltimore Life Cos., which became an arts colony for the day through a newly formed partnership with county schools.

Some put paint to canvas with bold, confident strokes. Others sketched ideas in pencil first, while art teachers strolled among them, offering critiques of the works in progress.

"I never really liked landscapes before, but it's not too bad once you actually sit down and start doing it," said Kenwood High School student Sean Bohle, 17, as he mixed shades of green. "I love art, but I don't like knowing art and sitting in a classroom. You just end up modeling yourself after your teacher."

Terry Lake, a marketing trainer at Baltimore Life, got the effort off the ground with a student exhibit at the company gallery in October.

The company has displayed new student works every two months, complete with opening night receptions and awards. The top prize is a $100 savings bond. Lake plans to include landscapes painted yesterday in the next exhibit, which opens May 17.

"There's a lot of excitement throughout the company about the program," Lake said. "When people see the works of these kids they're so amazed."

Baltimore Life has a history of supporting arts. It established a strong relationship with the city's arts community when it opened a company gallery 15 year ago in its Howard Street headquarters to show off the work of local painters.

The arts connection continued when the insurance company moved from the Mount Royal art district in 1992 to an office park in Owings Mills. This year, it took a new twist. Instead of showcasing the work of mature artists, company officials decided to give its gallery space to high school talent.

"That way we're investing in the future artists of Baltimore," Lake said.

Yesterday's landscape painting project brought together art students from six county high schools: Randallstown, Pikesville, Dundalk, Kenwood, Catonsville and Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts.

Most of the students are in the Artist in Residency program, available at four county high schools. That program allows students to work on specific projects for extended periods. This year, students in the program painted portraits of their high school principals.

"We wanted to give them a field trip experience and transfer what they're learning onto a different structure," said artist Duane Sabiston, a teacher in the Artist in Residency program, who retired last year after teaching art for three decades in county schools.

Before heading outside yesterday, Sabiston gave the students a lesson in landscape painting in Baltimore Life's employee dining room.

Be aware of the verticals and horizontals, he warned. Pay attention to shadows and light. Don't get lost in the details.

Wendy West, a 17-year-old senior at Pikesville High School, stared at an intimidating, stark white canvas.

"I never do landscapes. I'm feeling a little helpless right now," she said.

"What do you see out there that you like?" Sabiston asked.

"I like a few of the rocks in the water and that little red tree right there," West said.

Sabiston told her to "start thinking of bands of colors," and warned against painting a round pond "like in a cartoon."

Unlike most students, who chose to paint the pond, Jen Stephenson, who attends Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, was drawn to Baltimore Life's office building.

"I like the reflections in the glass and shadows," said Stephenson.

Randallstown art teacher Joe Thornton worked alongside the students on his landscape painting. He said the assignment challenges students to use their powers of observation.

"They're bombarded with pop culture images, but they never really see in depth. It confronts the kids with new ways to think and see."

As for West, her blank canvas was filling up with reds, peaches and greens.

"I'm getting more into it," she said. "And when I get more paint, I'm going to pull it together and add more detail and do what I know how to do."

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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