Capturing history with a paintbrush

March 18, 2007|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's a very tough thing to make a living at. If I hadn't gotten into computers, I'd be a starving artist," said Gary Peddicord, a popular Howard County-based artist who loves to paint historic sites in Elkridge such as Wesley Grove United Methodist Church, the Thomas Viaduct and the Brumbaugh House.

Peddicord has earned his living since 1985 as a senior graphics designer, using computers in his work with the defense-contracting industry. Living with his wife, Linda, in the oldest townhouse development in Elkridge, where his ancestors settled in the early 1700s, he has had a front-row seat as subtle changes came to historical buildings.

Located off U.S. 1 near BWI Marshall Airport and the hilly byways of the oldest settlement in Howard County, the historic town of Elkridge is changing.

Now that vinyl siding is going on some of the oldest houses in the town and others are being torn down, the contrast between the horse-and-buggy age and the computer age is becoming more evident in the town.

Peddicord paints solitary images of buildings like old stone barns. He paints in a realistic style, using careful line work and pastel watercolors to capture the spirit of the buildings. His work is on display at some historic sites that are open to the public.

In 1971, he painted a large mural, measuring 5 feet by 10 feet, of Ellicott City. It is now displayed in Mount Hebron House, a historical show house. Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church owns the building.

Another painting shows the Patuxent River viaduct in winter, an arching bridge that links Baltimore and Howard counties, with sky and ground lending a peaceful quality.

Peddicord said he keeps his painting style "tight."

"The true watercolorists paint differently, because they do it where there's very little drawing."

Peddicord said what he does is half illustration and half painting.

"That's because if it was just painting [in watercolor] you wouldn't see the sharpness, but when you do [paint in] watercolor - I've seen them do it, and I've taken some classes - they do a really faint line. And, they take and mix the colors, they puddle it up, and that's true watercolor. And that becomes impressionistic. It's good, and I really appreciate it, but I just don't think that way."

"I mix it up a little bit," he said, saying he adds tempera when the watercolor needs some emphasis on the edge of a stone wall or roof. His 2006 painting of the Scottish Rite Temple, 3800 N. Charles St., measuring 29 feet by 23 feet, was painted in watercolor. It is on display at the temple.

Peddicord's 2006 painting of the Brumbaugh House in Elkridge shows a stately old building surrounded with other, less permanent-looking buildings.

"I use the artist's license: you put in and take out what you want," he said, noting that all his paintings have three flying birds in the sky - his "trademark."

The Brumbaugh House painting has a personal connection to the Peddicord family.

The owner of the house, a Dr. Brumbaugh, was a physician in Elkridge who used to travel to Ellicott City to treat families, Peddicord said. Gary and his two sisters grew up in the town, and Dr. Brumbaugh, who would take just $3 for a house call in those days, was their family doctor.

Peddicord gave the painting of his doctor's house to the county historical society.

Four barns were painted by Peddicord in the Mount Hebron area in January. Michael Fahey, owner of two of Peddicord's Mount Hebron works - depictions of an old stone barn and granary - said that the colors in the pictures go perfectly with the walls of his house. "I love stone buildings," said Fahey, whose house faces an open field and forest area.

Prints of Peddicord's work are available matted and framed for sale. One painting arose from need of the church that the Peddicords attend - Melville Methodist Church, which had an old roof needing replacement. Peddicord painted the building and produced prints to sell as a fundraiser. The matted prints sold for $20, and the proceeds went to the church's building fund.

Peddicord's great-grandfather was a founding member of Elkridge, and the brown shingled house - not yet a subject of a Peddicord painting - still stands as a reminder to the artist of his deep roots in the town. Another building that is yet to be painted the 1744 Elkridge Furnace Inn, scenic with Civil War fences

"There are so many buildings to be done in so little time," Peddicord said.

Peddicord worked with Louis Frisino, a co-worker at a former newspaper job and a painter of ducks, fish, dogs and waterfowl. He fine-tuned his draftsman skills watching Frisino paint.

"You have to do a very, very exacting drawing including shadows and everything. When Louis painted a fish, you could take that drawing he did, and photograph it and it would be a black and white to gray scale. He didn't leave anything to question when he put the brush down."

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