Gallery reopening to star a pioneer of Columbia

NEIGHBORS

March 10, 2004|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLORFUL watercolors of Mediterranean townscapes will grace the walls of Slayton House Gallery tomorrow. The gallery, in Wilde Lake Village Center, is open for the first time after six months of renovations.

New landscaping and new windows and doors have been installed, and the gallery has a new lighting and hanging system, said director Bernice Kish.

"It's exciting that the reopening exhibit is by a Wilde Lake resident who is one of the pioneers of Columbia," she said.

The watercolor artist, Robert Tennenbaum, is an architect and a city planner.

"I was involved with the early planning [of Columbia] in 1961 or 1962, while the Rouse Co. was still buying up land," he said. "It was a very exciting time. [My wife and I] built the first custom house in Columbia. We were the only house in the cul-de-sac. It was a real joy to have a hand in designing the town and live in it at the same time."

Tennenbaum worked with Joe Handwerger, the architect who laid out Wilde Lake Village Center.

"It's nice to see [the gallery] brought back to life fresh and new and have my paintings contribute to the reopening," he said.

Tennenbaum's interest in art goes back to grade school.

"That's why I became an architect," he said. "I like to draw and paint."

Through the years, his art became a hobby. But at age 67, Tennenbaum is working three days a week as director of real estate development for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Now he has more time to pursue his artwork.

His exhibit, Mediterranean Townscapes: Expressions in Form, Color and Space, includes 40 watercolors of ancient towns around the Mediterranean Sea.

"The paintings are fairly representational," Tennenbaum said. "You can tell what you are looking at. But I ignore the true colors and use colors entirely out of my imagination. I use almost Cubist forms that you see in ancient towns. Instead of painting a colorful abstract, I use the town as a kicking-off point."

Tennenbaum and his wife, Marcelle, who is originally from France, travel to Europe frequently.

"I am fascinated with narrow walkways and archways," Tennenbaum said. "When you are in these towns and you see an arch at a distance, you are not sure what's around the corner. You turn the corner - and suddenly, there is a cafe with a big tree. Or you look through an arch and there is water or a view of the countryside. It's such a `wow' feeling. I just love that!"

Tennenbaum paints on location, or from slides and sketches. While traveling, he carries 10 watercolor pencils, a pad and a brush.

"I start the watercolor on location," he said. "Then we duck into a cafe. I order an extra glass of water. I dip a brush into the water and touch the watercolor pencil with it. I finish the painting in the cafe."

Tennenbaum's work has been featured in American Artist and Watercolor, both national art magazines. Over the years, much of his work has had a Judaic theme. His work has appeared in Hadassah magazine, published by the national Jewish women's organization.

For Tennenbaum, one of the highlights of his artistic career was creating a poster for a Jewish organization in Paris that advertised a literacy conference, he said.

"That was plastered all over Paris," Tennenbaum said. "It was really something."

As an architect, Tennenbaum said, he is inspired by interesting forms and vibrant colors.

"I don't try to be picturesque just for picturesque's sake," he said.

The exhibit features images of small hill towns in France, Italy, Spain and Israel.

"I love color. I love the joy. I love the excitement of color and contrast," Tennenbaum said. "In this work, whether or not you have ever been to any of these places, you can feel the sense of surprise and mystery."

The exhibit runs through April 10. A reception is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 2. Information: 410-730-3987.

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