Baltimore artists create Orioles-inspired pieces

A painting of a confident-looking bulldog wearing a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap propped outside the artist Robert McClintock's studio bears a caption reading, "How 'bout dem O's, hon!"

The artist Tom Matarazzo's hand-painted screens of the Orioles Bird, with jauntily tipped cap and grinning beak, have never been more in demand than they are this month.

Steve Mull's colored-marker drawing of an Orioles team jersey, mitt and a pair of steamed crabs evokes such strong associations with the city that you can practically taste the Old Bay seasoning on those crustaceans.

The conclusion is inescapable: In Baltimore, for now, art is for the Birds.

This October, Charm City is being swathed in an orange glow, from City Hall to the Legg Mason Building, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. All of Baltimore has been turning out to celebrate the Orioles, who begin competing this weekend for the American League championship for the first time since 1997.

The city's creative community is no exception.

"We're fanatical about our team, and this is our way of cheering them on," says collage artist Matt Bovie of Baltimore.

Orioles-themed art and merchandise seems to be everywhere.

At Artscape this past summer, customers snapped up pendants and cuff links made by artist Juliet Ames from Orioles mugs and shot glasses.

Foodies stocking up on sweet potatoes and squash at the downtown Farmers' Market also have been picking up Orioles-inspired mirrors, shelves and bracelets from artist Mary Parks at her Three Cheeky Pickles stand.

"People seem eager to scoop up Orioles paintings, memorabilia, anything they can find," Mull says.

Motorists have had their commute brightened by two large-scale murals. One is of a handsome black-headed bird with an orange chest painted on the wall at 4333 York Road by local artist Iandry Randriamandroso. The other, a large nest of baby orioles, adorns two sides of a corner building at 1400 Warner St. It was painted by the local artist Stefan Ways.

Technically, these are realistic-looking orioles that are a part of the city's Bmore Birds mural initiative, and some of the other murals depict doves and red-bellied woodpeckers that aren't affiliated with sports teams.

But a Baltimorean can't look at an image of an oriole without feeling an urge to stand up and do the wave. So the murals count.

In contrast, the mural that Brian Propst Jr. is painting inside the Pasadena basement of his clients Dave and Shanna Smith will be seen only by a select few. But those guests lucky enough to be invited to watch games with the Smiths will have an enviable view.

Propst is painting a scene of the Camden Yards diamond that's 9 feet tall and 30 feet wide and wraps around three walls. When family members or friends are seated at the basement bar, it will be look as if they're sitting directly behind home plate.

To make that fantasy seem as real as possible, viewers will be able to see smoke from grills wafting over the outfield wall. The video screen will show the stats of an Orioles player the Smiths have yet to select. The couple's daughters, 5-year-old Savannah and 4-year-old Stella, will be visible in the stands.

"I'm trying to pull the energy at Camden Yards that everyone talks about into the mural," Propst says.

"I'm trying to get across that feeling of when there's a full count at the bottom of an inning, every single fan is on the edge of their seat. Baseball in this town has been reinvigorated. You can see it. You can smell it. Orioles baseball is back."

If the fans respond to the art, so do the players.

In addition to painted screens, Matarazzo, who operates a shop in Hampden called Razzo, is known for his hand-painted wall plaques that are made from crab shells.

He'll decorate a crab shell with virtually anything — a lighthouse, the state flag — but recently Matarazzo has been painting more Orioles-themed crabs than he ever has before.

"People really like them now," he says, "and they're saying that they're coming back for more at Christmas."

He's proud that he sold a crab painted with Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr.'s old No. 8 jersey to Ripken's wife, Kelly. (He says he also sold a football-themed crab depicting Johnny Unitas' No. 19 jersey to the late quarterback's wife, Sandra.)

Nor is he the only local artist to see his sports-themed work snapped up by high-profile customers.

McClintock has been told that "A Day at Camden Yards," his top-selling artwork in his series of five Orioles paintings, hangs inside the team's clubhouse.

In addition, McClintock said, Orioles manager Buck Showalter bought several pieces of artworkfrom his store — not Orioles-themed artwork, but photo illustrations of basset hounds in honor of the manager's own floppy-eared pets.

"It was kind of a thrill to see him," McClintock says.

(Calls and emails to the Orioles, Kelly Ripken and Sandra Unitas were not immediately returned Friday.)

Many of these artists say they are trying to capture the quintessential Baltimore in their pieces.

"Eighty percent of what I make is Baltimore-related, and the majority of that is inspired by the O's," Parks says. "You can't have one without the other."

When Mull of Fallston set out to celebrate the day in September 2013 that Chris Davis set a new home run record for the Orioles, he didn't sketch the ballplayer.

Instead, he reproduced the front page of The Baltimore Sun's sports section for that day, with the actual headline "Crowning Blow." The crab on the paper lets viewers know they're in Baltimore. And the can of Orange Crush? That's a nod to Davis' nickname.

Mull also has created two other Orioles-themed works and is planning to create at least one piece inspired by this season's triumph. In his opinion, good times are do rare that it's important to cherish the ones we have.

"This is a special time, but it will only last for a short while," Mull says.

"People will move on to other things — the Ravens, or Christmas. I want to create something that will help make the good memories last."

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