A program pairs landscape artists with Baltimore County property owners who have preserved their land and scenic views.

Canvassing for natural beauty

June 29, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Gavin Brooks stands at her easel, waiting for the cows to come out of the shade.

Soon enough they do, but they're at her feet, sniffing her oil paints, apparently to see whether the tubes might taste good. And before she's finished mixing the colors for the tree-covered ridge across the meadow, a flock of chickens comes stampeding toward her.

She has to laugh. She wanted nature. She's got it.

The Towson artist is willing to travel across the country for these kinds of exchanges, for chickens and horses to sketch, for a view of an open field. But now she doesn't have to go far, because a program organized by an influential land preservation group puts her in touch with landowners in northern Baltimore's County scenic valleys.

With the help of the Artists in the Valley program, she's painting on the 70 acres of woods and meadows in Greenspring that belong to Douglas Carroll III and his family, who have what every landscape artist needs: the landscape. Throughout the summer, the Valleys Planning Council matches artists with property owners in the Greenspring, Worthington, Western Run and Belfast valleys who have preserved their land and views.

"Conservation, land preservation and agriculture are closely related to art. They're all about preserving beauty," said Carroll, a member of the Valleys Planning Council's board who grows hay and keeps cows, chickens and goats on his Greenspring Road farm.

Monet might have had Giverny's water garden, orchards and flowers. Brooks and other local artists have the valleys' charming farmhouses, aging barns, untouched forests and sloping pastures.

Carrie Montague, a member of the Valleys Planning Council, started Artists in the Valley two summers ago, before she had taken her first painting class. But, she says, "What I wanted to do more than anything was share what the Valleys Planning Council does, preserving open spaces, and share that with people who might otherwise not have the opportunity."

The council has sponsored other public events, such as bicycle tours through the countryside, to showcase the area's preserved properties. "I thought artists would similarly appreciate the spaces we've preserved," Montague says.

Montague, who lives on 140 acres in Butler, sent letters to more than a hundred people with connections to art, from people who teach children to finger paint to Maryland Institute College of Art board members. She says she received enthusiastic responses from artists and landowners.

"It's beautiful, peaceful really, to see someone painting in your pasture," she says.

Teresa Moore, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, says the organization now has more property owners willing to share their land than artists who realize they have the opportunity. Since the weather turned warm, the council has matched more than a dozen artists with landowners whose properties have been placed into preservation, Moore says.

"This is the celebration of the landscape we're all working to protect," Moore says.

With the owners' permission, some artists just slip quietly into a field and start painting, while others have received tours from farmers who want to show their favorite spots and what they love about the land, Moore says.

In September, the council is planning an exhibit, Art for Land's Sake, as a fund-raiser that will feature some of the works that are created this summer.

Carroll, who has had about five artists visit his property -- some of them frequently, says he has enjoyed seeing the works in progress. "All I see is what's falling down," he says. "They turn it into part of the painting, and I'm thinking, `Is this my place? The roof isn't leaking.' "

Landscape artist Brooks still plans to work out West and along the New England coast. Her daughters, Cait and Charlotte, look forward to the monthlong painting trips in the summer, she says. But the Valleys program is giving her what she says she is always looking for: "views -- uninterrupted pasture."

Studios in San Francisco, Cape Cod and Annapolis show Brooks' oil paintings in keeping with the style of such masters as Edgar Payne and John Singer Sargent. However, she says, it is sometimes hard to find places to paint outside the studio in her Riderwood house.

Not wanting to risk her life setting up along a road, Brooks is frustrated trying to find vistas to paint. "We have a lot of tract mansions going up," she says, adding how grateful she is to be able to slip out onto Carroll's meadow to paint all day.

"It wouldn't be the same if he got rid of his barns and chickens and put in a pool," Brooks says. "This is the good stuff."

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