A storied slate draws from Westminster life

Artist: A retired teacher returns to the blackboard - this time to showcase the city's happenings and residents at a local restaurant.

August 29, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

At Harry's Main Street Grille in Westminster, the first thing that catches the eye is a chalkboard mural.

With the Baltimore Ravens in town for summer training camp at McDaniel College, the mural recently featured a Ravens theme - including portraits of coach Brian Billick and William McDaniel, the man for whom the school is named.

The mural - ever-changing, and as likely to feature local business figures as celebrities - covers most of a vestibule wall.

"First impressions are lasting impressions," says Harry Sirinakis, the restaurant's owner. "Our goal is to feature people and notable events in Westminster so that our restaurant can be a local version of a column being written for the paper."

Three years ago, when the restaurant was renovated, Sirinakis decided to spruce up the place with drawings that he had seen in town and at the now-defunct Chameleon restaurant.

He didn't have to look far to find the artist. Sirinakis had know Tom Holder for years and had gone to school with his sons. Holder had no problem creating the work that would be the first thing Harry's customers would see.

His payment? Breakfast every morning.

"I'm big on the barter system," Sirinakis said.

Mostly seasonal in nature, Holder's renderings vary from art deco - a New Year's depiction of a giant champagne glass used as a pool for holiday revelers - to playfully irreverent such as his vision of Western Maryland College graduates getting kicked out of the nest, and literally taking flight in their caps and gowns.

Holder - who says, "My goal in life wasn't to be a chalk artist" - sees chalkboard drawing as good practice for his real work. His passion is in painting portraits of friends and family members, combining several different styles of art.

"Soulscapes, that's what I call them. I try to get inside the person," he says. Maybe that's why he doesn't mind spending up to 10 hours at a time drawing portraits on the restaurant's chalk board.

At Harry's, where residents and tourists stuff themselves on big breakfasts, hot dogs and mango chicken salads, Holder's work makes an impression - especially on the subjects, who don't always know they part of his artistic whimsy.

"I was wearing a coconut bikini, building a sandcastle in the shape of the theater," says Sandy Oxx, executive director of the Carroll County Arts Council, which will move next door to Harry's next spring into a refurbished Carroll Theatre.

"To walk in and see this wonderful, fanciful rendering - yet it promoted exactly what we were doing.

"He has such great facility and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor," she says. "And, he made me look thin and beautiful."

Local celebrities

Early this year, Holder drew portraits of local librarian David Fair and his brother Jad, members of Half Japanese - a punk and new-wave band. He has also featured Westminster poet Barbara DeCesare, executives from the Westminster branch of BB&T Bank and others.

"Tom is creative and adaptable," Sirinakis said. "He has a very good eye for capturing people."

Liberties are taken, however, which is why Oxx wore a bikini on the board.

"The deal is always this, we try to get people to give us pictures, but the poetic license we take is anything below the neck," Sirinakis said.

Once, Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff's gigantic disembodied head floated above a field of wild flowers.

Ready for touch-ups

Because of its open access to the public, a handwritten note reads, "Please don't erase." Sirinakis said people often run their fingers on the chalk, but no real mischief has been done to it. Holder often has chalk in his pockets, ready to do touch-ups or adjustments.

Holder is no stranger to chalkboards. A retired teacher who taught at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, the former Montrose School for Girls in Reisterstown and Howard Community College in Columbia, Holder would write a different definition of art every day for 100 days.

One favorite is from abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell: "Art is some strange charm that tugs at the imagination, unaccountably melancholy." Another is from Pablo Picasso: "Art is a lie that expresses a truth."

But another definition of art might best describe how Holder captures Westminster: "A stopping of time while life moves on."

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