Summer fancies, 2011

Driving onto the grounds of the Montpelier Arts Center, you immediately realize that its annual summer sculpture exhibit is under way. The lawn sloping down from its building is the site for a sculptural installation by Leah Frankel — "Green Catenaries" — that responds to its hilly location.

Frankel's installation consists of 24 pairs of poles that frame a ceremonial walkway, of sorts. Adding a festive touch are the bright green ribbons connecting the tops of each pair of poles. Those ribbons shimmer in the sun, gracefully move in the wind, and prevent this sculptural installation from seeming too rigidly spare.

"Green Catenaries" also plays perceptual games with the viewer. The poles are approximately 10 feet tall at the top of the hill, but gradually become shorter and are only about half that height at the bottom; and the space between each pair of poles gradually becomes narrower from the top of the hill to the bottom. Your sense of this installation correspondingly expands and contracts along with the piece itself as it "moves" along the hilly contour of its site.

Frankel's outdoor installation is her only sculpture in a two-artist exhibit at Montpelier jointly titled "Inside/Out." Inside the main gallery, Frankel has numerous very small drawings that, in some cases, are schematic renderings of the pole-and-catenary construction you've just seen outside.

These drawings are of conceptual interest to those who might be keeping track of how the artist designed the outdoor installation. They are of more limited interest as drawings.

The second artist exhibiting in "Inside/Out," Elsabe Dixon, remains completely within the indoor main gallery.

What is described in the gallery brochure as a "living silk sculpture" consists of tabletop-mounted paintings of colorful moths that have actual silkworm thread running across the surface of the paintings. Additional evidence of silkworm involvement here includes a windowsill off to the side of the room that contains cocoon-filled glass jars.

This silkworm-obsessed installation involves the interplay between painterly images of moths and silky surfaces produced by real silkworms. It's not something you see every day, that's for sure.

Although these two Washington-area artists have created mind-tickling installations, "Inside/Out" still seems skimpier than many earlier editions of this annual summer sculpture show. There's a lot of empty wall and floor space in the main gallery, for instance, and it seems to go beyond what is needed for contemplating your own response within an uncluttered environment.

What really merits the most thoughtful consideration at Montpelier this summer is an unrelated exhibit of graphite-on-paper drawings by Baltimore artist Alexa Brooks that is hanging in the arts center's Library Gallery. These drawings rely on the artist's eye for detail and her ability to indicate subtle changes in tone.

"Painted Bricks," for instance, is a drawing that depicts a wall whose bricks have been painted white. From a distance, you basically see an expanse of white; pull closer, however, and you can distinguish the white mortar from the white bricks.

In a compositional sense, it's the orderly grid you'd expect to see in a well-constructed brick wall; there are also the minor irregularities you would expect to see in even the best-made brick wall, and the artist clearly spent a lot of time depicting each irregularity in line and tone.

That sensitivity can be seen in other drawings that include the arabesque decorative patterns in a grouping of "Veils"; the leafy variety among the potted plants in "Ray's Jardin"; and the delicate drawing that makes the battered window frame and its cracked glass seem so quietly palpable in "Broken Window."

Leah Frankel and Elsabe Dixon exhibit through Aug. 14 at the Montpelier Arts Center, at 9652 Muirkirk Road in Laurel. Alexa Brooks' exhibit runs through Aug. 19, as does an exhibit by students from the Montpelier Rug Hooking classes. Call 410-792-0664 or go to

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