Margaret W. Deford, 77, an artist known for fluid, `animated' colors

November 16, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Margaret W. Deford, an artist whose paintings were characterized by bright, fluid colors, died of cancer Tuesday at her North Baltimore home. She was 77.

Born Margaret Warner in Baltimore and raised in Roland Park, she was the granddaughter of Dr. Howard A. Kelly, one of the four founding Johns Hopkins School of Medicine physicians. She visited his Harford County estate, Liriodendron, where family members said she grew familiar with the trees and flowers that she later incorporated into her paintings.

She graduated from the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Conn., before earning an art history degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She continued her studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1980.

In the mid-1980s, Mrs. Deford, who had painted previously in her home, leased a studio in the then-newly refurbished Mill Center in Hampden, where she continued to paint in oil and acrylics until this past summer.

In 1994, Mrs. Deford had a one-person show, Table Screens, at Gallery 819 on Broadway in Fells Point. She built and painted many four-panel folding screens. One was entitled Giotto, after the 13th-century Italian artist. Another was Flowers in Flight, which recalled Henri Matisse's cutout designs.

"When you walked into the gallery, with its white walls and looked at her screens, you saw engaging, animated color and compositions" said Stephen Salny, the gallery's owner. "The show did quite well."

She also exhibited her work at local restaurants.

"She was a delightful painter," said Kathy Brieger, a friend and fellow Mill Center artist. "She had a wide-ranging curiosity. She kept on experimenting in her work."

Friends said that Mrs. Deford often painted scenes from nature - trees, flowers and vegetables - in a representational style. She was also fascinated by circus performers and depicted thoroughbred horses and her Hungarian vizsla hunting dog, Mowgli.

"I remember the time she went to the Lexington Market when the circus was in town," Ms. Brieger said. "There was a sort of event, the elephants were all lined up and being fed a lunch of bananas and cabbage. The animals ate decorously. She loved that."

In the past decade, Mrs. Deford painted a series of circus performers and trapeze artists.

"She had a painting of a monkey riding the back of a hippo," Ms. Brieger said. "It was a cheerful circus spectacle, but there was a mood to it, a darkness that suggested she understood a more complex nature in that scene."

"She had a beautiful brush stroke," said Charlene Rene Clark, an artist who also paints in the Mill Center. "All over her studio were little spontaneous doodles. She liked to invent and draw little animals. She once drew me an invention, a cake bug."

Friends said Mrs. Deford was an accomplished cook who entertained at her home. When guests entered her dining room, she had flowers, food and table linen arrangements planned around colors she selected for the evening. She also cultivated roses, dahlias, magnolia, joe-pye weed and numerous ferns.

"Peggy had this inner sparkle that came out quietly when she graced a room," said Dr. Ann Pulver, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine epidemiologist and friend. "Her garden was really another mural for her."

Services will be private.

Survivors include her husband of 53 years, John E. "Gus" Deford Jr., a retired printing firm owner; two sons, John E. Deford III of Owings Mills and Cooper D. Deford of Newton, Mass.; a brother, Douglas Warner of Baltimore; and four grandchildren. A son, Michael W. Deford, died in 1984.

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