New Calvert faces shine at home

Unveiled: A new portrait of the first Lord Baltimore reaches his newly renovated and reopened English estate.

May 13, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

RICHMOND, Yorkshire, England - Four centuries after building an English country house that has been called Maryland's birthplace, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, returned home yesterday.

And, some say, he looked a little more American.

A reproduction of a portrait of the proprietary founder of Maryland was unveiled in a ceremony to reopen Kiplin Hall, built by Calvert between 1622 and 1625 and partially restored in a $2 million face lift. The original portrait by Dutch artist Daniel Mytens hangs at the Enoch Pratt Free Library's central library in Baltimore.

"I thought George Calvert was the archetypical American," said Washington-based portrait artist Annette Polan, who created the new version. "Ambitious. Self-made. Courageous. I don't think Mytens caught that. This is more lively."

A Calvert descendant agreed with that description.

"It's not often one gets to travel with your great-, great-, great-, great-, great, great-grandfather," said Cornelia Peyton Calvert Fowler of Annapolis, who commissioned the painting and brought it across the Atlantic. "He is alive in the portrait. It's not just a dead face on the wall."

Now that Calvert's portrait is bound for a place of honor on the rich red wall above the landing of a gloriously restored front staircase, the hope is that Kiplin will gain renewed life with strengthened ties to Maryland.

"Kiplin, as of this day, has been saved for future generations," Lord James Crathorne said during the reopening ceremony on an uncommonly sunny day on the estate, in the north Yorkshire countryside.

The ceremony was attended by descendants of four families that owned the estate and several dozen Marylanders, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Jack Griswold, chairman of the trustees of the Maryland Historical Society. The society holds a lease on a Kiplin-based center for advanced study, research and travel, and it plans to improve and extend the facility created from a farmhouse.

"We consider this the birthplace of Maryland," said David Fogle, a former professor of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park, which previously held the study center's lease.

"Maryland's founder built the house," Fogle said. "We think the charter of Maryland may have been written here, though it has not been authenticated."

George Calvert, a secretary of state to King James I, was born on the estate and later built Kiplin Hall as a country retreat. But he rarely visited it. After declaring his Roman Catholic faith, Calvert gave up his parliamentary seat and sought to help colonize parts of America. He died in April 1632, and two months later, his son Cecil, the second Lord Baltimore, received the founding charter for the colony of Maryland.

Then, about 200 people, most from the countryside that surrounds Kiplin, boarded the schooners Ark and Dove and set sail for Maryland.

Red-brick, compact, three stories tall and rectangular, Kiplin was a "modest" hunting lodge that over the years fell into disrepair as most of the 5,000-acre estate was sold off in the early 20th century.

Slowly, the home has been returned to its former glory under a charitable trust. The first stage included installing a central heating system and restoring seven of the 21 rooms. Eight men struggled mightily to hoist a 69-foot carpet up three flights of stairs to the long gallery, which survived from the original Jacobean hall. Six were needed to piece together a Georgian mahogany cabinet that dominates the drawing room.

The house will be open from July 1 to Sept. 2. To show visitors what hard work lies ahead, rooms waiting for restoration can be viewed. In one room, a single bulb casts light over worn floors, peeling paint and stored furniture.

"I think it's splendid, and it's on the way up," said Fogle, who has championed the project for years. "But it's only half-done."

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