Artists brush off rain, keep painting Ellicott City

Artists working outdoors are at the mercy of the weather. That explains why so many of the paintings, watercolors and pastels have a rainy day feeling in the Howard County Arts Council's exhibit "Paint It! Ellicott City." If there were a theme song for this group show, it would be "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Canvas."

This annual event involves a paint-out in which artists set up in the Historic District of Ellicott City on a specified weekend in July, and then a follow-up exhibit in which a portion of the work made outdoors gets shown indoors through late August. Juror for this year's indoor exhibit is Mark Karnes, a painting professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The rain hits you from the moment you enter the arts center's Gallery I. Lida Stifel's oil painting "Rainy Day," which won a Juror's Choice Award, is a view looking down Main Street and toward the railroad bridge at the bottom of the hill. Although the rainy conditions make for a blurry and rather monochromatic depiction of the buildings lining the street, spots of green, blue, white and red are provided by the umbrellas held above pedestrians. An American flag also adds a small burst of color to the scene.

An overcast sky hovers over many other works hanging nearby. Alison Menke's "Main Street Rush," which won a Juror's Choice Award, offers a similar view near the bottom of Main Street. Menke's deployment of thick brush strokes transforms the buildings into blocky forms and the passing cars into blurs.

Bruno Baran's oil painting "Rainy Day Main Street," which won an award for Best Urban Scene, makes the street itself a grayish blur only partly enlivened by the yellow lane markers running down the middle of the street. His painting emphasizes the tall and sometimes tilted utility poles that resemble bare trees within this quasi-somber setting. And in one of this exhibit's rare interior scenes, Baran's Juror's Choice-winning oil painting "Interior St. Paul's Catholic Church," the subdued tones of gray and brown similarly make for a quiet mood.

This intensely local art exhibit offers plenty to see and, while we're talking numbers, it seems to have handed out as many awards as at the Academy Awards.

Whether prize-winning or merely honored to be hanging on a gallery wall, much of the work in the show depicts scenes on Main Street or immediately adjacent to it. Other pieces, though, venture into the hilly streets above Main Street. It doesn't take long before you're immersed in nature.

Ann Crostic's oil painting "Rooms with a View," which won the Blossoms of Hope Award for Best Depiction of Nature, features a wood frame house at the left side of the painting, and a lawn and wooded hill filling out the rest of the composition. This misty landscape seems more rural than urban.

Kathleen Gilbert Kotarba's oil painting "View from St. Paul's" depicts hill-hugging houses that have lush vegetation surrounding them. Kotarba's painting won a Gino Award, given in memory of longtime Ellicott City artist Gino Manelli.

Although the rainy weather understandably tends to make the nature- and streetscape-oriented artwork alike seem near-monochromatic, there are quite a few artists besides Lida Stifel who found color highlights on a cloudy day.

Duane Sabiston's Juror's Choice-winning acrylic painting "Alley Off Maryland" stresses the various shades of green that storekeepers use to brighten the sides of their buildings. And David Lawton's oil painting "Walking in the Rain" features a red umbrella-wielding pedestrian walking past vividly painted storefronts.

The majority of artists were responding to a weekend with limited sunshine, but that was a moot point for the artists who deliberately painted scenes at night.

One of the most striking examples is Alexander E. Wissel's oil painting "Citizens of the Night," which did not win any awards but surely deserved to.

Wissel depicts a Main Street storefront whose large plate-glass windows invite you to look in at a spare display of mannequins and American flags. The absence of people makes the scene feel even quieter; and the artist's skillful use of black and muted brown also reinforces the contemplative mood. You may find yourself contemplating the great American painter Edward Hopper.

Among other artists in the show, Juror's Choice Awards also went to Catherine Hillis, Mark Coates, Joanna Barnum, Steve Stannard, Janice Kirsh and Greg Johannesen.

The Gino Award also went to Debra Moffitt, Olga Bolgar and Greg Johannesen; a Best Urban Scene Award went to Janice Kirsh; the Howard County Arts Council Director's Choice Award went to Maria Marino; and the Howard County Tourism Director's Choice Award went to Leah Lewman.

Also exhibiting in this Gallery I show are Edward Williams, Linda Newton, Deborah Maklowski, Lissa Abrams, Sid Branham, Katherine Farrell, David Drown, Lisa Kokes and Heather Leatherman.

"Paint It! Ellicott City" runs through Aug. 23 in Gallery I at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is the two-artist exhibit "Purpose Repurpose," featuring Randall Cleaver and Brian Ferrell. Call 410-313-2787 or go to

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