A legacy of preservation

September 13, 2006

The opening of an exhibit of unusual and rarely seen work by Marion E. Warren just six days after his death is a coincidence of timing, but one utterly appropriate to his style. Tonight's show at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts offers the perfect setting to bid adieu to the Annapolis photographer, not in sadness but in celebration of extraordinary gifts still waiting to be fully explored.

During five decades behind a camera lens, Mr. Warren, who was 86, proved himself to be not only a fine artist but also a historian lovingly recording passing eras in Annapolis, Baltimore and far-flung corners of the Chesapeake Bay region. Most of all, Mr. Warren was a preservationist. His own pictures, and copies he and his daughter Mame made of vintage photographs dating back to the Civil War, served as an inspiration to historical societies determined to save old buildings from the wrecking ball. Mr. Warren's work on the bay in the mid-1980s was intended to document "the people and the places as they are today" because he feared, correctly, that much of the rich cultural life of those bayside communities would be lost.

Mr. Warren's role as historian and preservationist extended to photography itself. During the 1950s administration of Gov. Theodore McKeldin, Mr. Warren was hired to serve as the state's first official photographer, a job less focused in those days on the governor than on Maryland itself. His copies of vintage photos rescued sometimes forgotten work of predecessors.

Mr. Warren's business and commercial work, including before-and-after shots of the renovated Charles Center in Baltimore, combined history, art and commerce. After his formal retirement in 1987, he donated his stock, including more than 100,000 negatives and prints, to the Maryland State Archives.

A bit of a conspiracy among his friends resulted in the final exhibit that opens tonight. Mr. Warren had been battling cancer on and off since 1997, but never lost interest in his work. Friends decided a year ago that putting together a new exhibit for Maryland Hall might help perk up his spirits. For additional spice, the collection would exclude most of Mr. Warren's signature black-and-white photos and display instead rarely seen color work. He was reviewing prints for the show just hours before he died last Friday.

As with his art, Mr. Warren has once again chosen just the right amount of light and shadow to highlight a central point of interest: his rare talent and remarkable life.

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