Show celebrates one woman's art, life


November 08, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ABOUT 100 people came to the Mill River Gallery on Oct. 30 to honor the work of Ginny Baier. Friends, family, colleagues and hospice workers paid tribute to a woman whose watercolors were almost more vivid than life.

Some who came had known Baier for a lifetime; others know her only after she became ill. None had ever seen a gallery filled with her work.

Baier died of breast cancer in August 1998 at age 67.

Forty-five of her watercolors and one pastel drawing were exhibited for one day -- although the work remained in the gallery for a week. A series of nudes, still-lifes, and landscapes including the Grand Canyon, the Canyon De Chelly and Tuscany hung on the white walls.

"Dorothy's Window" frames a sill cluttered with objects: an oil can, a steam iron, metal grates and a large red glass plate. Propped against the window's ledge is a translucent green plate and behind it, visible through the glass, are the curlicues of a decorative wrought-iron object. A lustrous glass ball and a colorful bird made of wood, or perhaps papier-mache, stand on the windowsill.

On the sash above are shoe molds, metal biscuit cutters, a tin of baking powder -- the practical clutter of daily life. A flour scoop, iron trivet, a bunch of flowers and a grater hang from the top of the window frame. A small toy truck is parked on a slender shelf above. Through the window, the soft splash of pinks and greens hints at leaves and flowers.

The life framed by the window is colorful, richly textured, immediate and beautiful. It is a watercolor of the kitchen window of Ginny Baier's mother, Dorothy Burt. Baier gave the painting to her only daughter, Becky Rothey, as she was dying.

Baier worked quietly in her studio at the Oella Mill for five years or so. She researched and wrote articles about painting for Watercolor magazine, a publication of American Artist. Her series on color -- "The Color Blue," "The Color Yellow," "The Color Green," "The Color Gray" -- describes the history of each color in art and inner life, its appearance in nature, its pigments and techniques for its use.

She exhibited her watercolors nationally and internationally. She was also a master gardener.

After Baier's death, her daughter and her husband, Don Baier, found more than 130 finished watercolors, 100 that were unfinished and 60 pastels and charcoal drawings in the Oella Mill studio.

Rothey was awed by the work -- and by her mother's accomplishment.

"That was striking to all of us. She had the artist's vision. What she created up close, she knew how it would look from a distance," she said.

"I was kind of surprised that there were so many finished and signed," Don Baier said. "Especially since she was telling me she didn't have enough for a big show."

When Don Baier and Rothey learned that Stephen Doherty, editor-in-chief of American Artist, had decided to include 10 of Ginny's articles in a soft-cover publication, "Color: How to Pick, Mix, and Paint Color in Watercolor," they decided to mount the exhibition -- and throw a party so her friends could see it.

They auctioned four of her watercolors -- three were sold -- to benefit Hospice of Howard County, the agency that provided support to Baier and her family during the summer of 1998.

Ginny Baier had wanted to die at home, surrounded by family and friends. Rothey, who lived in Pennsylvania at the time, spent 2 1/2 months visiting with her mother. A son, Alan Pasiencier, is a musician and lives abroad.

At Saturday's tribute, Rothey spoke about how important Hospice of Howard County had been in her mother's life, how Ginny had looked forward to visits from nurse Colleen Smardon and volunteer Jae Semich.

"I had no idea of her talent," Smardon said at the party, although, she added, she had gotten to know Ginny well during her illness. Semich, who also was present, spoke about what an honor it had been to know her.

Family friend Jim Skirven served as auctioneer.

Hospice volunteer coordinator Elaine Patico also came to the tribute.

"It meant a lot to me to see all of her work," she said.

The hospice staff knew Ginny when she was dying. But they didn't know her when she was well, Patico said. Even so, they experienced her tremendous vitality.

"Every morning when she woke up," Don Baier said, "there was something she wanted to do -- something about life that she enjoyed."

The presence of the hospice staff was a gift, he said. "They were a source of emotional strength for Ginny and for me, too."

The hospice helps people, he added, "in a situation in which there is not that much that they can do -- except to value them while they are dying."

Ellicott City resident Libby Calven had known Ginny Baier since the 1970s, when Calven was an art director in New York City, where Ginny and Don Baier lived for many years.

Calven helped Don decorate the gallery with beech branches and chrysanthemums. And she brought homemade desserts.

She described Ginny's studio at the Mill as a place filled with works in progress and neatly tended paints. "Huge doors," she said, "opened to a view of the river."

Calven had watched Ginny work on her paintings of the southwest at home, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1997. From her trip there, Ginny had brought Calven a "teeny tiny pot," Calven said, with a saguaro cactus seed.

It stands on Calven's windowsill.

`Miracle Worker'

Howard High School will present a production of "The Miracle Worker" at 7: 30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in the school's auditorium.

Tickets are $5 in advance; $6 at the door.

Megan McCarthy will play the blind and deaf Helen Keller; Ashly Walton will portray her teacher Anne Sullivan; Jennifer Kulhman will be Kate Keller and Alex Wolniak will be Captain Keller.

Brian Snyder is technical director.

Information: 410-313-2867.

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