Mural depicting downtown Westminster in 1800s dedicated in outdoor ceremony

City officials honor artists for their work

January 23, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Braving frigid temperatures, Westminster city officials, representatives of the local arts community and artist Lewis Schlitt dedicated a new mural at an outdoor ceremony downtown yesterday.

The mural, which looks like an old map, fills the side of a red brick building on Locust Lane owned by Jim Sirinakis. On one corner is a picture of the Westminster Railroad Depot. Also depicted are establishments that existed in the late 1800s on West Main Street and elsewhere in Carroll County.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan presented a bronze plaque to the artists involved in the project: Schlitt, who designed the mural; Drury Bynum, James Veenstra and Thomas Van Damme. The plaque also credits the Historical Society of Carroll County and the Carroll County Arts Council (CCAC).

"When I decided to go to art school, I was told I might have to starve. They didn't say I'd have to freeze, too," Schlitt said to much laughter from the audience.

"Public art is different from framed art in a gallery because it has the ability and the responsibility to deal with people in the space where they live," Schlitt said. "What I wanted to do here was to give people a reason to pause and think about where they are on the map in this city and in the larger picture of life in the world."

Westminster City Manager Karen Blandford said many people who work downtown had long talked about the need for a mural. An earlier attempt to gain a Maryland State Arts Council grant toward the project was unsuccessful, but the council awarded the city $800 this time. The city of Westminster appropriated $8,000 for the work.

Nineteen artists applied, said Sandy Oxx, executive director for the CCAC, which helped coordinate the project.

"That's not a lot, but we had to get artists who could do this kind of art," Oxx said.

Three of the 19 were asked to submit designs, Blandford said.

Schlitt, who earned a bachelor's degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1987, said the research took him about 40 days. The Westminster resident of four years got his idea after looking at old maps of the city.

"When I saw the atlas in the library -- I think it was from 1877 -- and saw the way it was painted, I thought it would be a great connection," Schlitt said.

It took another 40 days to paint the mural with Van Damme, Bynum and Veenstra, he said. The artists had their work displayed at the Ain't That a Frame shop in Westminster.

Said shop owner Lou Chang of the mural: "I think it's wonderful. It's very appropriate for Westminster. It's conservative for a first piece. It's nice. It shows things the way they were."

He was on the committee -- composed of representatives from downtown businesses, members of the art community and the CCAC -- that reviewed the entries.

Other committee members were: Sirinakis, Oxx, Blandford, Maggie Ball, Barbara Bland, Sue Bloom, Bob Cumberland, Patty Keener, Doug Mathias, David Max, Anita Ritter and Harry Sirinakis.

"What we find in culture defines what we are as a community. And the mural is part of the history of Westminster," said Mark G. Pohlhaus, vice president of the CCAC and president of the Westminster Bank and Trust Co. of Carroll County.

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