John Hayes took up painting as a young man to impress an artist he hoped to woo.
"I didn't even know art existed until I met this woman," said Hayes, a Laurel resident. "I told her that I was an artist. I bought some paper and a tube of paint, and I took her painting."
His love of art far outlasted the relationship. Now 82, Hayes is receiving recognition for his work.
Hayes' sculpture will be exhibited at Bel Air's Liriodendron Mansion, beginning Sunday and running through Aug. 15. Though he has exhibited his work at local cafes and participated in group shows, this is his first show as the only sculptor whose work is on display.
The show will also feature the work of landscape and nature painter Edwin Friend.
The past two decades have seen a burst of artistic activity from Hayes. Since retiring from the Social Security Administration, he has published poetry, fiction and children's stories. He won an award for a one-act play. And he also took up acting, appearing on the television shows Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire.
Although some of the 21 pieces at the Liriodendron are concrete and stone, most are wood. Hayes uses a belt sander to draw texture and shape out of the material.
"It gives you curves," he said of the sander. "It gives you motion."
Of all art forms, Hayes finds sculpture the most rewarding.
"I lose myself in it," he said. "When I'm working a piece of wood or stone, I become part of that wood."
Carol Bindel, a poet who met Hayes through a writing group, said her favorite Hayes pieces are his wood sculptures. "They're all about curves and grain and texture," she said. "He gets so many textures in a piece of wood."
Bindel said that Hayes' sculpture and his photography share certain qualities. In both forms, "he does such interesting work with shape and play of light and texture," she said.
The artist uses a variety of wood, some from unusual places. Listen Up, his largest piece in the show at more than 5 feet tall, was once a beam in someone's basement.
Hayes once sculpted a simple 6-foot board that is 2 inches thick and 2 inches wide.
"I just wanted to see what I could do with a long, uninteresting piece of wood," he said. The result was Political Meeting, a trio of narrow, 2-foot-tall sculptures that seem huddled in conversation.
When asked to describe his work, Hayes - known for his dry humor - said: "Excellent, excellent. It's semirealistic, I guess. It's sensuous. People see my work, they want to touch it, they want to stroke it."
Hayes said he has had more time since retiring to pursue and display his art.
"My impression is that as he came into retirement he allowed himself a whole new range of activities and he learned a whole other range of being," Bindel said.
Much of the Bel Air exhibit will be Hayes' older work. He has cut back on sculpting because of arthritis.
Maryanna Skowronski of the Harford County Historical Society said the Liriodendron's art shows are aimed at attracting people who aren't able or inclined to visit galleries in Baltimore or Washington.
"We try to ... expose Harford County residents to artists from other counties whose work they might not necessarily have a chance to see," she said.
"Mr. Hayes' work is abstract but it uses very natural-looking materials, stone and ceramic, that sort of have that earthiness," Skowronski said. "The committee just felt that the two works would complement each other."
Liriodendron is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 15 (closed July 4), 502 W. Gordon St. in Bel Air. Admission is free. 410-838-3942.