Discussion, display to explore Western art, history


February 07, 2000|By Douglas Lamborne | Douglas Lamborne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"MY INTEREST in art developed from my interest in history," said Tom Dawson, owner of a popular Annapolis gallery that specializes in 19th-century American art. He will exhibit both those interests in a talk at the Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

"It will be a dialogue between myself and Jay Phelan discussing the themes of his collection of Western art on display there."

The term "Western art," Dawson explained, conjures up images of cowboys and Indians. The Phelan collection shows other aspects of the West, however.

One of those aspects is towns and settlements, which depict the architecture used by early settlers and offer clues about how people lived.

"These paintings have tremendous historic merit," Dawson said. "They let history speak for itself. Because most of these places are gone now, the artwork is really pieces of time preserved."

Other themes of the exhibit include natural wonders and people, in portrait or involved in activities. One includes a painting of Santa Barbara Country Club around 1900 -- evidence, said Dawson, of how fast gentrification can move in.

Dawson was born in Annapolis in 1941. After graduating from Severn School, he went to Duke, where he majored in history.

He joined the Peace Corps and managed to make a little bit of Cold War history of his own. Traveling in northern Iran with a friend, he ventured onto a beach that he likened to Sandy Point State Park.

"These Russian army soldiers hid from my view and then ran up and grabbed me," he recalled. "They blindfolded me and tied my hands behind my back. They held me for three weeks for trespassing, although there was no sign out there."

Because his friend witnessed his arrest, Dawson didn't despair. He learned after his release that the incident was serious enough to have engaged the interest of then Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

After a second Peace Corps tour, teaching in the Marshall Islands, Dawson went to law school at Catholic University.

"I went there for the challenge," he said. "I thought studying the law would be great preparation for almost any kind of endeavor."

After practicing law in Annapolis, he opened his gallery on Maryland Avenue in 1982. History, especially 19th-century American history, "led me into art."

A brush with contemporary pop history came his way several years ago during the filming of "Patriot Games." One scene, a chase and a shootout, was shot at the other end of Maryland Avenue, outside Gate 3 of the Naval Academy.

The star, Harrison Ford, dropped by Dawson's one Sunday afternoon and purchased 17 paintings. "The man has very good taste," said Dawson.

Be mine

Annapolis Area Library, at 1410 West St., will have a Valentine's Day program for youngsters at 9: 30 a.m. tomorrow for 2-year-olds and at 10: 30 a.m. for kids 3 to 6 years old. They will create a giant valentine, listen to stories, sing songs and enjoy treats.

A similar theme will be at work at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Edgewater library branch, 25 Stepneys Lane, in a program appropriate for children age 2 to 6.


A flock of robins appeared in the snow the other day, more reliable predictors of a change in season than any silly groundhog.

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