Baltimore City's Cylburn Arboretum is an artist's paradise, which is why painter Patricia Bennett has been drawn to the 207-acre grounds of trees and gardens since 2005.
But unlike other artists who dot the landscape of the longtime city park, Bennett, of Mount Washington, now has an official reason to be there.
Since January, the 36-year-old attorney's wife and busy mother of two young children has been working as Cylburn Arboretum's first-ever artist-in-residence, a program that city officials say is designed to formalize the natural connection between artists and the arboretum.
Bennett receives a $2,000 stipend for the year and the prestige of illustrating one of north Baltimore's best known and most picturesque tourist attractions.
For Bennett, who grew up in Homeland and used to live and paint in Charles Village, painting at Cylburn is a personal labor of love.
"I care about it," she said. "It's in my neighborhood."
Now, Bennett is preparing to culminate the year with her own 2013 Artist-in-Residence Show, Nov. 1-3 and 5-7, at the arboretum's Vollmer Center, 4915 Greenspring Ave., with an opening reception Nov. 1. The show, featuring 30 of her paintings, is free and open to the public.
But those who come expecting to see nature painting will be in for a surprise. In addition to painting nature, Bennett is also a "live-event" artist, who is often hired to do impressionistic paintings in real time — "as they happen," she said — at weddings, birthday parties and other events around the region.
She first came to the attention of Cylburn Arboretum officials when she painted "live" during a Solstice in the City event on the grounds in June 2012.
"It's like plein air (open air painting), except it's about people. I've always liked painting people more than landscapes," said Bennett, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore, and refers to herself as a fine art painter on her website, http://www.patriciabennettstudio.com.
She also has a degree in physics from Reed College in Portland, Ore. Her father, Vann Bennett, is a former professor of biology at Johns Hopkins University, who now works for Duke University.
In living color
As a live-event artist, Bennett has painted everything from her grandmother's 96th birthday party to a client's 40th birthday party.
"They're going to hang it up in their house," she said.
Live-event painting strikes a chord with customers, Bennett said.
"People love it," she said. "They really like seeing me paint and they like seeing the painting happen. They like finding themselves in the painting."
Starting an annual artist-in-residence program not only brings prestige to the artist, but helps Cylburn Arboretum market itself as a destination for artists and art lovers, said Lynda McClary, executive director of the arboretum.
"Being associated with art, that's the exposure for us," McClary said. She called it "adding to our cachet," and noted that city horticulturists have "transformed" the arboretum in the three years since it was closed in 2008 for a year for construction of a visitors center.
McClary said the arboretum is part of the Walters Art Museum's Art Walk, and that the website finegardening.com has come to take photos.
"They called us," she said.
"What we get out of it is that public awareness of us as an art form ourselves," she said, citing the idyllic gardens, trees that have won championships, and varied species of birds that make the arboretum a magnet for birders. "What we want is that exposure that says, 'This is not your grandmother's Cylburn."
Bennett is not quite your grandmother's idea of an artist. She divides her time between plein air, live event and portrait painting.
She was up until 1 a.m. Aug. 25, painting a wedding party at the Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville.
Late that morning, she was back at Cylburn Arboretum, sitting in a shady spot near Cylburn Mansion and finishing a 14-by-14-inch plein air painting of her children at Cylburn that she had been working on since May.
"I started this when the trees were blooming," she said.
Getting to know Cylburn
She pondered the inherent difference between plein air and live-event painting.
"Being an artist is very solitary," she said. "I like being around people. I wouldn't want to do it all the time."
She glanced around occasionally for inspiration as she painted.
"This is nice, too," she said.
Bennett said one of the biggest perks of being the artist-in-residence at Cylburn is the opportunity to bond with the arboretum and its imposing mansion, which was built in 1863 as the private estate of Quaker businessman Jesse Tyson.
"I like getting to know Cylburn pretty well," she said. "It's a big place."
She was paid $950 for one of her Cylburn paintings and donated half of the money to the Cylburn Arboretum Association, she said.
After her year as artist-in-residence ends, Bennett hopes to expand her palette.
"I was thinking next year I would focus on Sherwood Gardens," she said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun