Hand-painted figurines a tradition for holidays

Sale: A Howard Community College professor adds color and creativity to plaster Santa Clauses and raises money for a memorial scholarship.

November 13, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Vladimir Marinich's hand-painted holiday figurines come in a wide variety of styles - including Santa Claus golfing, fishing, wearing graduation robes and playing baseball for the Orioles.

But they all serve one purpose: raising funds for a Howard Community College scholarship in honor of his late companion, nursing teacher Marion Durkan.

The Howard Community College history professor started something of a holiday tradition at the school six years ago when he started offering his Santas, snowmen and other holiday figurines to support the Marion Durkan Memorial Endowment.

Marinich said this year's sale, starting Tuesday at the college, probably will be the last, noting the significant amount of work that goes into painting 75 to 100 items each year.

Durkan suggested that the couple paint plaster Santas and give them as gifts about 10 years ago.

"I would paint the big parts ... she would do the face, eyes and eyebrows," Marinich said.

Durkan, who was manager of the nursing lab at the college, died of a heart attack in 1997. Marinich started an endowment that would help a second-year nursing student pay for tuition and fees. The most recent scholarship was $635, and the amount will increase as the endowment grows.

It is a nice way to remember a woman who, in addition to being a dedicated educator and a registered nurse, "had a beautiful singing voice and an incredible sense of humor," Marinich said. "When she was depressed, she was in a better mood than most people in a good mood."

After the endowment started to grow, Marinich decided to paint more of the Santas and offer them as a gifts to people who made donations to the fund ranging from $10 to $50.

"It just wouldn't be the holidays without buying one of Vlad's figurines," said Missy Mattey, director of development at the college. "We have people come in every year. ... They have a whole collection."

Marinich had raised $6,573 with the figurines, supplementing individual donations and other fund-raising events, such as trips to New York City for alumni and letter-writing campaigns, Mattey said.

"It takes all year to do it," said Marinich of painting dozens of pieces. He often works on them early in the morning or during a break from grading papers in the study of his Columbia home.

Each year, he buys plain white plaster Santas or brown ones made of compressed pecan wood, driving 400 miles to a store in North Carolina to find a variety of poses. He removes imperfections with fine-pointed dentist tools and sandpaper, primes the brown figures with white paint and then colors in the clothing, faces and beards.

Details make each one unique, Marinich said, such as the correct color combination for Orioles' away and home uniforms, and the tiny Oriole mascot he adds to the baseball caps.

This year, he made sure to get paint between the fingers of a Santa reclining in a boat, added a pattern of palm trees to the shorts of a beach-going Santa and an HCC logo to his shirt, and created a camouflage pattern on a military Santa's fatigues.

"I try not to have any two the same," he said.

Despite the long hours, Marinich said, he enjoys the detailed work.

"I think I am doing a good thing, and my limited artistic ability kind of fulfills me," he said.

He has taken several art classes at the college and enjoys drawing in charcoal.

Still, Marinich said, it has gotten more difficult to find time for the project.

"My life is busier than it has been," he said.

He has gotten married and spends time visiting his three children from a previous marriage, two stepchildren and seven grandchildren. He teaches several classes at the college, where he has been a member of the faculty since the school opened in 1970, and he likes to travel.

Marinich helps the college with numerous fund-raising efforts, Mattey said, particularly by finding alumni and helping with events. He is also helping his wife, Barbara, build a scholarship in the name of her late husband, George Livieratos, by requesting donations and joining her in leading trips to Russia.

Marinich is confident that the Durkan scholarship fund is in good financial shape and will continue to grow through other means.

"When I am gone," he said, "there will still be that scholarship for students."

Marinich's figurines will be on sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday in the HCC Galleria in the Student Activities Building on campus at 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Information: 410- 772-4450.

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