Columbian paints the town

Architect who helped design the city sees it as an artist



As a 38-year resident of Columbia, and as one of the architects who helped plan the community in the 1960s, Robert Tennenbaum knows the area well.

But when he started painting scenes of his hometown, he said he became more aware of the forms and shapes around him and saw new elements of the landscape.

"It is interesting when you live in a place for so many years and you know it so well, you tend to not notice lots of things because they become so familiar," he said. "If you start looking, you can really find interesting and picturesque places in the new town of Columbia."

Tennenbaum hopes others will see Columbia anew in 36 paintings on display at Slayton House Gallery in Wilde Lake Village Center. The exhibit, Places in Columbia: Color and Shape, runs through June 10.

Tennenbaum, 69, is director of real estate development for the University of Maryland and is trained as an architect.

"Most architects are frustrated artists," he said, recalling that he had a wide exposure to art, art history and architecture growing up in New York, attending the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and earning his architecture degree from Pratt Institute.

"I've been involved with photography and painting for as long as I can remember," he said.

Previous exhibits in Columbia and Baltimore - including a 2004 exhibit at Slayton House of paintings of Mediterranean villages - have featured landscapes and townscapes, Tennenbaum said. He has also painted scenes of Paris.

Last year, he was walking around Wilde Lake and, he said, "I thought to myself, `It's about time I focused on the town I live in.'"

He said: "One thing that I think comes through in all the paintings in this exhibit is the amount of greenery in Columbia. All of the paintings show that trees and landscaping are extremely important in the town."

He said water also appears often, including in paintings of Wilde Lake and Lake Kittamaqundi. The exhibit includes brightly colored, geometric renderings of several village centers and nine views of the Town Center lakefront.

Tennenbaum said he works from sketches and photographs using watercolor paint, watercolor pencils and, in some cases, combines watercolor pencils with clear acrylic.

He said he likes to make the images more abstract, though still recognizable, and to use his own vivid color schemes.

"Organizing the shapes and colors while I'm painting is as important - maybe more important - than depicting a real place," he said. "But I like the idea that my work is accessible to people."

He said he was particularly pleased when viewers at the exhibit opening said that his paintings offered a new way of looking at familiar things.

"That exactly what I was aiming for," he said.

Bernice Kish, gallery director for Slayton House, said the selection committee was familiar with Tennenbaum's artistic ability and liked the Columbia theme.

"He had, of course, a wonderful idea to look at the city again from an architect's point of view," she said.

Simultaneously with Tennenbaum's exhibit, photographer Tom Lorsung is showing "Wings, Water and Waning Light: Images from the Eastern Shore," at Slayton House's Bill White Room.

Lorsung's work features photos of ospreys and sunsets among other scenes.

Kish said the photographer has "taken a lot of time to capture [waterfowl] at a moment of wonder. It's a lovely show."

Slayton House galleries are on Wilde Lake Village Green in Columbia. Information: 410-730-3987.

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