Where history, art are treasured

August 08, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To the ancient Greeks, beauty emerged out of order and form, and the 18th-century fellows who laid out the city of Annapolis knew their classics.

The capital city remains a monument to their vision, for a stroll around the Historic District is still a feast for the eyes; an open-air museum of architecture and history animated by a magnificent maritime setting that has defined life in Maryland since the colony's inception.

The hub of the fine arts scene in this area is the Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery, an intimate (1,825 square feet) space that has attracted many a treasure to Annapolis since its opening in 1989.

Under the auspices of the museum and the St. John's College campus that hosts it, the gallery has featured works including etchings by Rembrandt, Durer and Goya, romantic naturalist paintings of the Hudson River School, Andy Warhol silkscreens, Japanese woodblocks and stunning medieval maps of the Holy Land.

In keeping with St. John's fealty to the ideals of liberal education, Mitchell Gallery exhibits are meticulously documented with catalogs and descriptions of immense sophistication.

The gallery is host to at least four traveling exhibitions a year, in addition to spotlighting works by local artists, most of them connected to the St. John's community.The 2004-2005 season commences Aug. 24 with Where the Water Meets the Land, paintings of seascapes, waterfronts and ships from the collection of Washington, D.C., art collector Jay Phelan.

Located in Mellon Hall, adjacent to Francis Scott Key Auditorium on the St. John's campus, the Mitchell Gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday and from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. Information: 410-626-2556.

No discussion of area museums is complete without mention of the Naval Academy's remarkable museum in Preble Hall, just inside the Maryland Avenue gate.

Established in 1845 as the Naval School Lyceum, the academy museum has become the repository of some of the most valuable military materials in the world.

The U.S. Trophy Flag Collection bestowed on the museum in 1849 comprises more than 600 flags, including the "Don't Give Up the Ship" emblem from the War of 1812 and banners that were carried to the moon.

The Storer Medals Collection has more than a thousand coin-medals from 30 countries dating from 254 B.C. to 1936. The Rogers Ship Collection presents more than 100 models of vessels from the sailing ship era from 1650 to 1850, while the Robinson Collection of Naval Prints contains about 6,000 prints depicting ships and major battles from the past 400 years of naval history.

Most affecting of all is the museum's newest offering, 100 Years ... and forward, a large set of exhibits that examines the Navy's 20th-century role, from the Spanish-American conflict through the two World Wars, the Cold War and the space program.

The U.S. Naval Academy Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Information: 410-293-2108.

Named for Marylanders Frederick Douglass, America's great champion of abolitionism, and Benjamin Banneker, the extraordinary Renaissance man who, among other things, laid out the District of Columbia, the Banneker-Douglass Museum is the official repository of African-American material culture for Maryland. The museum is housed in the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the very center of the state capital's historic district.

These are exciting days for Banneker-Douglass, which soon will be opening a 11,500-square-foot wing that will double the museum's exhibition space. When the addition is opened next year, the first permanent exhibit will be a comprehensive history of African-Americans in Maryland from the 1630s through the mid-20th century.

In the meantime, Banneker-Douglass is still the place to go for some pleasant artwork, informative displays on the Underground Railroad, European colonization of Africa and other topics, a tribute to old Mount Moriah Church and beautiful stained-glass windows.

At 84 Franklin St. just off Church Circle in the center of Annapolis, the Banneker-Douglass Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Information: 410-216-6180.

For a slice of maritime-inspired Americana, Anne Arundel County is home to the Captain Salem Avery House, the restored home of a 19th-century boat captain and oysterman on the West River, south of Annapolis. Operated by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, the 150-year-old structure also is the place to see a pair of vintage boats: the Edna Florence, sailed by oystermen about 75 years ago, and the Vanity, a racing sailboat from the 1930s.

At 1418 E. West Shady Side Road, the Avery House Museum is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment. Information: 410-867-4486.

Finally, animal lovers enamored of politics will want to see the Presidential Pet Museum at 1102 Wrighton Road, just off Route 4 in Lothian in southern Anne Arundel. Animals have occupied places of honor in the White House, and this collection founded in 1999 focuses on those pets.

A highlight of the collection is a portrait of the Reagan pooch, Lucky, made from the dog's hair. There are pictures and photos of presidential pets from Nelson, George Washington's horse, to Barney, Spot and India, the dogs who have the run of the White House, courtesy of President and Mrs. Bush.

Stuffed toys, called "Presidential Petibles," are available for purchase in the museum store, which may be found online at presidentialpetmuseum.com.

Whatever the novelty, a love and respect for animals is at the heart of the collection which makes for a lovely theme at that. To schedule a visit, call 410-741-0899.

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