Solomons — – In the mid-1950's Washington architect and builder Francis Koenig was advised by his doctors to escape the city and find a place to rest from the tensions of his work, so he and his wife, Ann Marie, found a retreat among the tobacco farms of Calvert County.
They built a waterfront home in Long Beach, took up sailing and grew to love the area and its watermen so deeply that in 1991 they donated 30 acres on St. John's Creek to the county and asked that it be used as a sculpture garden like those they had seen in their European travels.
Francis Koenig lived long enough to see the first permanent sculpture installed in 1994 as he had requested: a sculpture fountain dedicated to the oyster tongers, whom he had grown to respect and admire for their hard lives.
Today, Annmarie Garden is a Southern Maryland gem — a woodland preserve dotted with art ranging from world-class sculptures to whimsical fairy houses created by staff, children and local residents on display this summer.
"You have to put yourself back in that time period to appreciate how strange it was for someone from Washington to vacation in undeveloped tobacco farm country and to think about a way to enjoy art in nature here," said Stacey Hann-Ruff, director of Annmarie Garden.
Annmarie Garden also offers adult and children's classes and a two-story art gallery, where this weekend opens the second installment of "Green: Art with the Earth in Mind," works in a range of media that comment on our troubled relationship with the environment. The exhibit will be on display until Oct. 10.
Among the pieces in the new exhibit is "13,699," a human-scale cube made from the caps of water bottles hanging like Christmas lights on hundreds of monofilament lines.
"That is the number of people who die each day because they have no access to clean water," said artist Christine Destrempes of New Hampshire as she finished installing her piece Wednesday.
Visitors can step inside her house of bottle caps, but they cannot pass through it.
"I wanted it to be an environment," she said. "I don't want them to be able to escape the consequences of this."
Destrempes collected the thousands of bottle caps she uses at recycling centers and over 18 months went to high schools and colleges to talk about the scarcity of clean water in parts of the world – and to ask the students to help her string bottle caps.
"It is both a social and an environmental piece," she said.
Also on display is Brenda Belfield's "Rain Forest," four canvases in colorful acrylic and crayon that evoke the rainforest. But one of those four panels is hung away from the other three to represent the fact that a quarter of the earth's rainforests have been destroyed.
Some of the art at Annmarie Garden has a more light-hearted message, and it can be found along the paths through the surrounding woods.
Visitors can search for 25 tiny fairy houses that are tucked among the trees and on the forest floor. Take a break on one of the 13 "Talking Benches," created by school children to pay artistic – and amusing – tribute to Southern Maryland's native trees and plants.
Look closely to see the Mona Lisa or the characters from "Goodnight Moon" among the paintings rendered in miniature where the bark splits on the trees, on stumps or on the sawed-off ends of branches.
And look, too, for the cast handprints of Francis and Ann Marie Koenig, as well as their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who still visit the gardens named for the family matriarch.
"Everything I have built in my life will someday be taken down," Koenig once said. "Annmarie Garden will always remain."
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