Card artist turns back clock

Annapolis: City Hall invitations feature a painting of the waterfront in 1904, by a local woman.

December 24, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Annapolis artist Ginger M. Doyel gazed into the past and conjured up the capital city on a snowy December day in 1904.

The 24-year-old illustrator's pencil and watercolor landscape -- depicting horses on snow-coated streets, spires looming over small shops and a humble oyster shed alongside ice skaters on frozen creeks -- is the centerpiece of about 750 cards sent by City Hall inviting the public to an annual December open house.

"We thought it would be fun to have a nice look at the past to share and make connections to the city you live in," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who each year selects a local artist to design the city's holiday card. This year's production and mailing cost the city about $1,500 from the mayor's office special fund.

She said Doyel's offer to depict the Chesapeake Bay waterfront town a century ago -- just before the Automobile Age -- should be a big hit with city dwellers, many of whom are amateur history buffs.

To capture the state capital of 1904, Doyel hardly has to leave her apartment and studio in the historic district, with views of the State House, the green copper Navy Chapel dome and the Colonial William Paca House. The Annapolis skyline has remained mostly intact for the past century.

"It was a chance to combine my art and my history," said Doyel, who was not paid for the commission. "I chose the scenes for a reason, since they are relevant to current issues."

The boat club perched by the waterfront, and the now-vanished oyster shed and fish market house are meant to remind people that the bay's health was central to the livelihood and character of Annapolis. The child on a dog sled and Christmas trees for sale at the foot of Main Street are true to the time, she said.

Doyel's dining room table is stacked with books on history, design and architecture. The 1910 city directory -- which lists adult residents by occupation, -- was also a guide for her imagination.

Jean Russo, a historian at the Historic Annapolis Foundation, vetted Doyel's art. "It's whimsical folk art which captures the spirit of the buildings, pastimes and clothes of the early 20th century," Russo said. "Missing are neon lights and cars. Nobody in there knows World War I is 10 years away."

Doyel said she has soaked up city lore as a member of a family that has called Annapolis or the Naval Academy home for four generations. Research enhanced her feel for the period, documenting the snowfall and other events of December 1904 by reading news archives.

"She gave us vestiges of a bygone era and the soul of a city in a delightful pastel," said Jan Hardesty, the city's public information officer.

The picture can be read for meaning, Doyel said, not only for what is in it -- for example, an Eastport bridge now gone -- but for what it leaves out, like the muscular architecture of the Naval Academy.

A $1 million building boom was going on at the Academy's yard in 1904, with President Theodore Roosevelt's enthusiastic support. The cornerstone of the Navy Chapel was laid in 1904. The chapel was completed in 1908, the crowning glory of the modernized academy.

Doyel said that after returning to settle in Annapolis after graduating from the University of Richmond two years ago, she registered a difference. "It struck me my hometown had changed, with more development and traffic," she said.

That slight but jarring change made her more attuned to the details of daily living, Doyel said. "The oyster is at the core of the state of the bay," she said. "And the city wasn't made for cars."

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