A Carroll County home comes with Mona Lisa smile


Unusual: An artistic couple, with a love of plastic pink flamingos and wallpaper made of soda can tabs, erected a white picket fence to show the neighbors that they weren't too weird.

April 02, 2000|By Mary Medland | Mary Medland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The first hint that Jenny Campbell and Ron Ecker's home is not your ordinary Carroll County Cape Cod lies in the screen door that leads to the kitchen.

Painted by Campbell, it's a knockoff of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

But that's not all. The other window screens reflect the work of Peter Max, Salvador Dali, James McNeil Whistler, and Andrew Wyeth.

And then, there are the couple of dozen pink flamingos in the back yard. "But, we didn't want our neighbors to think we were too weird, so Ron and I put in a white picket fence to reassure them," said Campbell, who along with her husband shares the house with five cats and a dog.

Clearly this is a home of artistic souls, a residence with the kind of creative karma that one would expect to find in Hampden, Fells Point, or perhaps Waverly. "But, I really love this house, and I love my job at the Walters Art Gallery," said Campbell. "So, I'm willing to put up with the commute."

Of course, the painted screens are just the icing on the Campbell-Ecker cake. The dining room features a table that Campbell inherited from her great-grandmother. She set about painting the brown table a bright purple, and did the dining room chairs up in orange, green, pink, and yellow.

But the true centerpieces of the dining room are the two floor-to-ceiling cases, which house Campbell's collection of Pez dispensers. She's got everything from Jiminy Cricket to the Pink Panther. More than 500 are on display, and the rest are stuffed in drawers.

Here the ceiling is painted to mirror the heavens -- the clouds were crafted by a friend and the hammered-tin sun was made by her artist mother about 30 years ago. The dining room, like all the other rooms throughout the house, is embellished with strands of Christmas lights. All year long.

Shortly after their marriage in 1991, the couple moved into the home, which was bought for them by his parents for $112,500. "Ron's parents are very understanding. He grew up nearby and most of his family is still here," said Campbell, who worked for several years as a tattoo artist, apprenticing under Westminster's legendary Little Vinnie. While she makes the daily trip to the Walters' photography lab, her husband travels all over the area, delivering hot tubs and spas.

And when he's not delivering tubs, he's playing in his rock band, Betty in Black, named after one of the best-known girlie-movie stars of the late 1940s to the mid-1950s.

When the couple moved into the 52-year-old home, they became the second residents -- the original owner having lived there for 43 years.

"The house was in excellent condition," Campbell said. "It had all the original light fixtures and was so well-maintained we couldn't even tell where the former owner had hung pictures."

Campbell has "papered" one wall of her modern kitchen with the aluminum tabs from soda cans. Of course, she's also crafted a couple of blouses out of the same material -- lined with black fabric.

Not all the flamingos are outdoors, she added -- the half-bathroom on the first floor is a veritable pink flamingo sanctuary, with framed postcards of flamingos covering most everything.

"One of the Ravens football players -- who had gone to college in Florida, no less -- came here one night to deliver a 98-inch submarine and he told me how much he loved the pink peacock bathroom," she said. "Just loved it."

Also on the first floor is the burgundy living room with a baby grand piano the couple purchased from a church and a collection of memorabilia that includes family postcards, including those that her great-grandparents exchanged when they were courting.

"A lot of people think the room is really dark, but since I work in a darkroom all day, its seems pretty normal to me," she said.

The adjoining sun porch has been converted to Campbell's studio, where she works on her screen paintings. As well as the occasional article of screen-painted clothing, such as the formal dress she wore to a party at the American Visionary Art Museum. The sartorial motif, not unexpectedly, was flamingos.

Her studio window frames a view of the Carroll County Farm Museum. While many of her screens are commissioned, Campbell also sells miniature painted screens through local stores such as Hometown Girl, the Maryland Historical Society, and Canton Gallery.

"I've painted personalized screens for people that depict their homes or their pets, but the best ones I've done have used glitter paint -- there's Divine, with earrings that glow in the dark, and I've done some glittery ruby-red slippers," she said.

On the second floor, Ecker has his office, complete with computer, fax machine, and phone. And several hundred photos of Marilyn Monroe, which he's been collecting for more than a decade. There are also a few vintage photos of Betty Page, his band's muse.

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