An artist's vision of Annapolis

Works of Sy Mohr, 84, among those on display for celebration

May 20, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

A vibrant vision of Annapolis over time as a small town teeming with characters greets passers-by on City Dock as the first in a series of outdoor murals celebrating the state capital's 300th birthday.

The 8-by-15-foot collage blends several of 84-year-old Sy Mohr's fantastical oil paintings depicting trolley cars, sightseeing boats and crabbing to combine the Colonial and contemporary. It hangs from the Harbormaster's Office in the heart of downtown.

"Mr. Mohr's story emerges and meanders through history to present-day Annapolis," artist Sally Wern Comport, curator of the mural exhibition, told a crowd of about 50 at Friday's unveiling. "I honor him as a painter and a storyteller."

The murals of Mohr and others are part of Art Walk, a component of Annapolis Charter 300, a citywide celebration of festivals, arts events and historical exhibits marking the establishment of a royal charter government in the Colonial seaport in 1708.

Friday's opening was a victory for a determined few who argued for Annapolis' first long-running show of outdoor murals and won the acceptance of the city's influential Historic Preservation Commission.

Skeptics had expressed fears that it would ruin the vista of Annapolis's downtown historic district.

Art Walk is funded by a $70,000 city grant, and organizers hope to bring in at least that much from the private sector.

Comport met Mohr by happenstance, when he walked into a building because he admired an outdoor piece she had made facing Rowe Boulevard. She recognized Mohr's name as that of a brilliant, relatively unknown artist whose body of work she had long wished to see.

A native New Yorker, Mohr spent most of his adult life with his family in Lancaster, Pa., where he owned and ran a fabrics shop. He was also at work painting hundreds of pieces of art. Social rhythms and political events inspire him, he said in an interview after the unveiling. Among the stage sets he created was one for the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess in the 1940s.

Local lawyer Chuck Walsh said finding Mohr's trove of artwork at his Bowie home inspired him and Comport when they first envisioned the outdoor public art project called Art Walk.

"He comes into our lives out of nowhere," he said. "That was the serendipitous nature of this whole situation."

Mohr said of his participation, "Buildings are people, too."

Murals by five artists will be displayed at six sites throughout the city for three years. Annapolis photographer Marion Warren expressed a wish to be part of Art Walk shortly before he died last year, Walsh said, and some of his black-and-white pictures of Annapolis will be hung on the side of Sean Donlon Irish Pub on West Street. Walsh expects the photos to spark public interest in and support for Art Walk.

Chuck Weikel, executive director of Annapolis Charter 300, said a naval-themed mural by Greg Harlan will be hung this summer on Craig Street near a new pedestrian entrance to the Naval Academy and that a Comport work is to be placed on Compromise Street.

"I challenge everyone to find something that they can relate to in this art," said Weikel, an academy alumnus.

Artist George "Lassie" Belt, an Annapolis native, was on hand Friday to see Mohr's work. He said he is working on a penciled black-and-white mural to hang on the Arundel Center, near the Clay Street community, where he grew up.

"It will speak to freedom and the struggles for equality for African-Americans in Maryland," Belt said.

His wife, Charlene, said it is useful to express all different parts of the past. "History is what it is," she said, "good and bad."

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