Ellicott City artist paints Shakespeare scenes at Patapsco ruins

  • Mary Jo Tydlacka has been painting scenes from Shakespeare plays at the Patapsco Female Institute ruins since 2003. Here, she poses with a painting from the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's performance of the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew."
Mary Jo Tydlacka has been painting scenes from Shakespeare… (photo by Sarah Pastrana )
July 25, 2011|By Lisa Kawata

You might have seen her in the audience, drawing pad on her lap, pencil swiftly sketching the drama before her — King Lear going mad, witches chanting over a bubbling pot, dueling Capulets and Montagues, or a brooding Hamlet.

For as long as the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has performed these classic plays in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute, local artist Mary Jo Tydlacka has captured the tragic and sometimes funny stories with her pencil and parlayed them into wildly colorful expressions worthy of the pathos of The Bard of Avon himself.

“These productions are a treasure, and the ruins are a treasure,” says Tydlacka, 66, a former English teacher who returned to school for art lessons in 1970 and never looked back.

Her affair with Shakespeare in the Ruins began, quite appropriately, by accident in 2003. She was painting the Gothic ruins of the defunct 19th-century girls’ school when she saw a flier advertising a production of “Romeo and Juliet” there that evening. She went and was caught — mesmerized by the creepy broken down walls juxtaposed against the tall moonlit columns and the shadows playing both on and off the stage. She hasn’t missed a rendezvous since.

“She’s turned into an informal archivist but through her own perspective,” says Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s artistic director,  Ian Gallanar. “We’re all huge fans of her work.”

“When putting on a play, the actors agree to suspend reality, and the audience agrees to suspend reality,” says Tydlacka, pointing to her watercolor of Lady Macbeth wandering mindlessly in a nightgown amid the broken walls and blue-black treetops. “You can make your own world.”

So magical are her paintings of scenes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Much Ado About Nothing” that the Folger Theatre, in Washington, D.C., purchased them for permanent exhibit in its Shakespeare Library. Tydlacka has been a resident artist with the Howard County Arts Council since 1984 and also is known for her landscapes of Ellicott City.

Her paintings can be seen at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” this summer at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park. For more information, go to www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

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