Artist's paintings seek to preserve farm life on canvas

Shyami Codippily's works on display at Howard conservancy


Howard Live


When Shyami Codippily talks about why she paints farms, she returns often to the example of the farm she painted at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1985.

At the time, she said, she never imagined the dairy barns would be replaced by the Comcast Center basketball arena.

"Things that are here today are gone tomorrow," she said.

Codippily - who uses her maiden name in her art, but otherwise goes by Shyami Murphy - recently completed a series of oil paintings depicting fields, fences, barns and livestock at 24 Howard County farms.

The paintings are on display at The Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock through this month. Codippily has also compiled the paintings, some historical background, poems she wrote and other thoughts in a book titled Farms Never to be Forgotten, which will be available at the end of this month.

Codippily, who lives in a development on the former Sissal farm in West Friendship, said she does not intend to make a statement about whether farms should be sold and developed.

Many factors influence how the land is used, she said, but change "happens before your eyes as a landscape painter. ... As an artist you want to hold on to what is out there. The only way you can is on a canvas."

Codippily has been painting local farms for about a year and a half. She said she always paints in person, carrying her easel and paints to the location sometimes four or five times.

She often uses color theory, she said, placing opposing colors near each other to create a visual contrast. Spots of yellow sunlight glow next to purple shadows. Green grass is more vibrant with flecks of red.

The paintings also feature thick, textured layers of paint that she applies with a very small brush.

Codippily said her work is about more than capturing the landscape. "It is everything you experience while you're out there, not just the visual," she said.

That could mean working outdoors in 10-degree weather or, on a nice day, taking off her shoes to feel the grass.

"I'm just delighted ... she made it a point to learn about the location, to be more immersed than just the visual," said Ginger S. Myers, agriculture marketing specialist with the county economic development authority. She wrote an essay for Codippily's book.

"It's obvious that she does not just research, but she actually spent those few quiet moments in reflection," Myers said.

Codippily's interest in math, science, psychology and music also play a role in her art, she said. For example, she saw a mathematical "S-curve" in the tree-lined hill of Roberts' Inn Farm in Cooksville. She titled the painting Integration by Arts, referring to a mathematical idea called "integration by parts."

A painting of a running brook at Mount Pleasant Farm - the home of the conservancy - titled The Song of the Stream, was inspired by the musical sound of the water and the way a tree bowed over the rocks like a conductor with a baton.

Codippily, 38, was born in Sri Lanka and came to the United States as a teenager. She graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda and spent a year at Carnegie Mellon University before earning her bachelor's degree in art at the University of Maryland, College Park.

After 11 years in Ellicott City, she moved four years ago to West Friendship. She lives with her husband, a space flight engineer, and her 10-year-old son in a home built on the former Sissal farm.

She said she has been making art since she was 3 years old and decided to pursue it full time after working for several county departments.

Working with elderly people at the Office on Aging, and then interviewing farmers for her book made her realize "no one is going to know these stories of what life was like," she said. "Even hearing a rooster crow is a thing of the past."

Her book, she said, is intended to be a souvenir of what the county was like for previous generations.

Lynne Nemeth, executive director of the Howard County Conservancy, said her organization was pleased to have Codippily as the second artist to exhibit in the new Gudelsky Environmental Education Center.

"When we found out what she was working on and saw the quality of her work, we thought, `This is perfect,'" Nemeth said. "I think appreciation of nature is a lot about appreciation of beauty."

Nemeth said the conservancy plans to have regular exhibits in the center that focus on nature, landscapes and conservation.

Codippily said with the wide open space and natural light, "you can't find a nicer place to show your work than this building."

Information on Codippily's art and her book is available at or 410-489-2875. The Howard County Conservancy, at 10520 Old Frederick Road, is open to the public Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information about the conservancy: or 410-465-8877.

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