Portraits of local pioneers are unveiled at City Hall

June 14, 2004|By Lester J. Davis | Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

The walls of City Hall's executive conference room have undergone a modern makeover that proved unfit for English nobility.

Gone are the gigantic 8-foot-tall paintings of what Mayor Martin O'Malley calls the "old white guys in tights" -- the first and second 17th-century Lords of Baltimore. Last week, they were replaced with 14 smaller portrait-style hand drawings of area pioneers.

In an effort to bring more diversity to a room where most of the mayor's news conferences take place, O'Malley decided that the two paintings failed to capture the essence of Baltimore.

Framed drawings of local heroes such as Frederick Douglass, Johns Hopkins, Thurgood Marshall and Edgar Allan Poe took their places on the walls of City Hall.

"Many times we forget the sacrifices of the people who have come before us," O'Malley said. "To me, men and women from all walks of life have contributed to the success of Baltimore."

As the ceremony began Wednesday morning, the mayor smiled and said, "I think this room looks better."

The great-great-grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was present for the unveiling of the portraits. Frederick Douglass IV said he is amazed at how his great-great-grandfather continues to affect people's lives. He said it's also nice to be able to witness his ancestor being commemorated.

Another element of the ceremony involved uniting the past with the future. Fourteen Belmont Elementary School pupils presented two-minute biographies of each trailblazer.

Briere Allen, 7, stood atop a 2-foot-high white box and recited the accomplishments of Revolutionary War leader Charles Carroll -- for whom Carroll County was named -- as she introduced him to the room full of parents, teachers and city workers.

While the glare from camera flashes was enough to make most of the presenters appear bashful, Briere seemed unfazed by the sudden rush of interest and knew exactly why she liked Carroll so much.

"He spent his life trying to make our state and country a better place to live," Briere said. Jeanne Davis, City Hall's curator, said the mayor wants people to be able to look around City Hall and see themselves represented.

Students from the Schuler School of Fine Arts designed the portraits and the Baltimore Museum of Art did the framing. The law office of Shapiro, Sher, Guinot and Sandler sponsored the drawings.

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