Book designed to preserve history

Compilation of artist's paintings will document sites in county and area

May 14, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mildred Bottner Anderson sat at a table in the studio of her Gambrills home, pulled about 80 color photographs from a small envelope and began shuffling through them.

The photographs are pictures of a series of paintings she has completed that are to be included in a coffee table book the 74-year-old woman has been actively working on for the past three years.

The sites Anderson chose are historical places spread throughout Anne Arundel County and the surrounding area that she painted for her book - A Piece of History: Barns, Bridges, Churches, Gardens, Houses and Landmarks of Maryland.

"Many of the subjects represent places that I've painted over the years that have been renovated, bulldozed, burned or destroyed and they will never look the same again," Anderson said.

Ardythe Jolliff, a friend and artist, said Anderson's book documents places that she believes would otherwise be forgotten.

"This is a wonderful history of the county and many of these places, if they aren't gone now, will be torn down to make room for modern buildings and facilities. The book will ensure that these places are never forgotten," Jolliff said.

Judy Rowe of Davidsonville, another friend, agreed. She also believes that the book is preserving a piece of Anne Arundel County history.

"A book like Mildred's has been needed," Rowe said. "I moved to this county 35 years ago, and many of the buildings here now were not there then."

For example, many of the old-timers remember the old Davidsonville School, Rowe said. "Mildred painted the school, and now we are two schools ahead of that. Many of the places she's painted are going away and they don't come back, but Mildred is saving them in her book."

The idea for Anderson's book came from a showing of her artwork in a local Barnes and Noble bookstore. One of the employees suggested that she make a book of some of the paintings, which included barns.

"Her book is a terrific service for the community, county and state," Rowe said.

Coming up with ideas for the book was easy enough for Anderson - who taught art in public schools for five years and privately for 26 years - though Betty Ochs, an Annapolis artist, said it was a long process.

"She's spent years working on this book," Ochs said. "She started working on the paintings well before she even thought about a book. What she has come up with is terribly interesting because it may be the only record that exists that shows that some of these places even existed."

Anderson preselected some of the locations, while others were found on road trips through Southern Maryland. When she saw a property that interested her, she stopped and asked the owner for permission to paint or photograph the place. Everyone she asked was receptive to the idea.

"I would knock on the door and ask people if I could paint their barn, and they would say, `Of course, let me see you paint it,'" said Anderson, who earned a bachelor's degree from Towson University.

She took photos and started the paintings in her home studio, and then she went back and painted on site to perfect the details she missed in the photos and to be sure she had used the right colors in the paintings.

"I use a lot of cobalt blue and other colors in my work, and it has to be just right," Anderson said.

Anderson painted 33 barns in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Carroll counties.

"I love old barns because they all have character. I painted every type of barn imaginable," Anderson said. "I painted leaning barns, rusty barns, converted barns and green barns."

But sometimes the project proved to be more of a physical activity than an artistic one. "I rambled up and down steep ravines," Anderson said. "Once when I painted an old dairy barn in Carroll County, I had to go through a 50-acre field of clover that was about knee to hip high to get close enough to get photos. I must have had about a 1,000 chigger bites when I got home."

Her husband suggested that she do the paintings in black and white, but Anderson had other ideas.

"After I spent a year studying color at the Maryland Institute, there was no way I was going to do it in black and white," Anderson said.

Although the terrain was a constant battle for her, she never had problems getting information about the sites she chose for her book.

"Everyone is ready to tell you something," Anderson said.

Jolliff concurs but said her friend's knowledge of the area is her greatest asset.

"Mildred knows everyone," Jolliff said. "She knows who owns what land and what happened when they sold it and who lives there now and who did what to it. She's just a wealth of information, and I know her book will be overflowing with it."

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