Jeff Holland is the executive director of the Annapolis Maritime… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
It almost seems as if Jeff Holland can stand in the gallery of his museum for hours, just gazing at the pictures on its rugged walls.
It isn't that he has nothing better to do. As executive director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum in Eastport, he's responsible for finding funds, planning events, installing materials and in general keeping the museum about life in and around the Chesapeake moving "full steam ahead," as he puts it in the museum's latest pamphlet.
It's just that the black-and-white images on display by A. Aubrey Bodine, a longtime Baltimore Sun photographer, through the end of the month contain so much visual information that Holland feels a bit like the watermen his museum celebrates: The longer he looks, the more good stuff he hauls up.
"Look at this," Holland says, pausing to scrutinize "Oyster Dredging," a photo Bodine took of oystermen pulling shellfish onto the deck of a schooner 67 years ago. "I've seen this [picture] so many times, and I never noticed those tiny icicles [hanging from the gunwales] before. Shows how cold, nasty and dirty a kind of work it is."
A former amateur photographer and a musician, Holland can appreciate and discuss the artistry of Bodine's work, which was celebrated for its serene beauty, stark compositions and painterly use of light during his years as The Sun's main feature photographer between 1920 and 1970.
Bodine took more than 50,000 photographs during that time, documenting everything from steelworkers and marble steps to farmhands and rural roads, helping to define Maryland in the public mind. His work won numerous international prizes, and examples still hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
But he never enjoyed anything more than shooting scenes on and around the Chesapeake Bay.
"Photographing the United States was a big thrill, but I always get a bigger thrill when I make a picture of a fleet of dredge boats moving over an oyster bed on a beautiful autumn day," the usually taciturn Bodine once wrote.
The quote appeared in "Bodine's Chesapeake Bay Country," a book of the photographer's work edited by his daughter, Jennifer Bodine, a nonpracticing attorney who now serves as gatekeeper of his work — and who chose the 40 pieces for the exhibit.
"I met Jeff a couple of years ago on a visit to the museum site, and it was just clear that this would be a perfect venue for [my father's] work," says Bodine, who will give a lecture March 3 as part of the museum's Winter Maritime Seminar series.
The Annapolis Maritime Museum began as the Eastport Historical Society, an organization housed in the old Barge House on the shores of Back Creek in Eastport, a neighborhood in Annapolis.
After Tropical Storm Isabel left the building swamped in 2003, organizers determined to bring the organization back to life also leased the adjacent McNasby Oyster Co. building, a 7,000-square-foot structure with a view of the Chesapeake Bay.
As the last of the city's working oyster houses, McNasby's — the bricks of which were cemented with mortar made of oyster shells — is part of the maritime history it celebrates.
Rechristened the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the place contains permanent exhibits on the anatomy of the oyster, interactive stations on the history of working and cultural life along the bay, and even tanks that contain some of the underwater life below the surface.
Just before Christmas, Holland opened the doors for an unannounced visitor and offered up a free tour. (The place was technically closed.)
"We're not just a museum where you come and look at old, musty stuff," he said, toweling his hands dry from an aquatic installation he was completing. "We're a place where you come and connect and interact and understand, get excited, have fun and enjoy yourself. If that happens enough, and you come back enough, we hope you'll actually want to become a better steward of the bay."
As art and historical record, Bodine's work fits the mission. "This has been one of our most popular exhibits," Holland says. "The overriding comment has been, 'This is perfect for here.'"
Spaced evenly on rough, whitewashed walls, the framed images embody a tour of bay history from the late 1920s (Bodine's "Mountain of Oyster Shells," from 1929, shows a two-story pile of shells — and the vastness of the harvest decades ago) through the early 1960s, when the artist created "Moon Light Bay," a shot taken from a boat that shows the Bay Bridge as a giant black "s" curve ascending from the mists.