Boats set sail with a cargo of art

16 skipjack sculptures are decorated by Anne Arundel students and sent out into the community


Faced with the task of decorating a 6-foot-tall replica skipjack, members of Broadneck High School's art club refused to go easy on themselves.

They painted the sculpture of the Chesapeake workboat with intricate portraits of Anne Arundel, Lord Calvert and American Indians, as well as a 17th-century map.

One incentive for working so hard for more than two months was knowing that the finished product would be on public display, said art club member Tyne Lowe, a junior.

"I think getting the art out of the schools was an important thing to do," she said.

The skipjack is now "anchored" in a courtyard at Anne Arundel Community College.

It's one of 16, decorated by students at the county's high schools and special education schools, that are on exhibit in high-profile areas like Baltimore Washington Medical Center and Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis. In September, they will be auctioned on eBay, with the proceeds going to arts programs in the county.

The Sailing into the Arts skipjack project is modeled after similar public arts programs in other communities, such as the 50 giant University of Maryland terrapins now hitting the streets.

But Suzanne Owens, coordinator of arts for the county school system, said the Arundel project is unusual because the skipjacks were decorated by students.

"We didn't bring professional artists in for this," she said. "That's not what we were about."

The skipjack, used by watermen from the 1880s to the 1940s to dredge oysters, was chosen because it symbolizes the county's history and its relationship with the Chesapeake Bay.

The skipjack sculptures, designed and built by local boatbuilder Cotton Thomas, weigh 100 pounds each, and have moving sails.

Donors could pay $2,500 to provide a sculpture for a school; the money covers the cost of construction, plus a few hundred dollars for art supplies to decorate it. Thomas donated one sculpture, which went to the J. Albert Adams Academy, an alternative middle school.

Art teacher Christine Flores said seventh- and eighth-grade pupils painted the sculpture with the school's theme, monarch butterflies, and the school's motto: "Where change is positive, change is growth, change is expected and change happens." The boat is now in Annapolis' historic district, Flores said, and the pupils are thrilled. "It's great because they were recognized," she said.

She also likes that the pupils learned cooperation by working together on the project.

The most generous donors have been John and Kathryn White. He's the chief executive officer of Compass Marketing Inc., an Annapolis sales and marketing company, and she's CEO of Innovative Analysis Inc., an Annapolis marketing company, and the creator of colored light bulbs called Mood-lites. Together, the Whites donated nine of the skipjacks.

"We actually had read about the program in the paper and thought it was great - a great idea," said Kathryn White.

"Money for the arts seems to get overlooked," she said. The key part of the fundraising is the eBay auction, Kathryn White noted. She's fairly confident she'll end up buying one.

"I don't know which one, though," she said.

This is the first year of the project, and Owens said it's too soon to decide whether it will be continued.

"I always said from the very beginning when we started the initiative in July, it really wasn't so much about the money as about the experience," she said.

The sculpture decorated by students at Marley Glen Special School and the Ruth Parker Eason School is closest to her heart. Both schools serve about 180 students, ages 3 to 21, with special needs.

Now on display in Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the decorated skipjack depicts the Maryland Special Olympics and the annual Polar Bear Plunge, which raises money for the Special Olympics.

Owens plans to install a poster, explaining the significance of the decorations and telling a little about the students who worked on it.

"I want the general public to understand," she said.

For a map of skipjack locations, download the brochure from the school system's Web site,

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