Plein air impressionist painter Bill Schmidt stands in front of one of his Annapolis scenes, "“Summer Day on the Bay.”" Schmidt’'s works are on display at a solo exhibit at McBride Gallery in Annapolis.
Plein air impressionist painter Bill Schmidt stands in front of one of his Annapolis scenes, "“Summer Day on the Bay.”" Schmidt’'s works are on display at a solo exhibit at McBride Gallery in Annapolis. (Photo for The Baltimore Sun by Bud Johnson)

As part of its 32nd summer season, McBride Gallery presents a solo exhibit honoring plein-air impressionist painter Bill Schmidt.

The exhibit, featured in the annual Annapolis Summer Salon shows, runs Sunday, July 8, through July 29. The Rockville-based artist has made nature his studio for 50 years, and for 25 years has displayed his work at McBride Gallery, where he has had two previous solo shows.

Gallery owner Cynthia McBride estimates that at most, only one or two solo shows are held per year. Rarely are artists honored with three solo shows, she says.

"The gallery is making a statement about the merit of the artist's work, and Bill merits a solo show because he consistently produces quality paintings," McBride says. She praises Schmidt's ability to create paintings "in a range of size through a spectrum of landscapes of maritime and city scenes, all requiring a variety of skills: painting water, boats, foliage, buildings, sky. All have their own challenges for the artist to paint in a way that the viewer will find soul in the painting.

"A good painter communicates a well-painted subject, then takes it to the next level of communicating time of day, atmosphere, the spirit of that day and the spirit of the subject," McBride says.

Schmidt's works capture the moment as well as any impressionist work can in the transient light and the air depicted in his paintings of Maryland landmarks.

His oil "Annapolis Boat Show" portrays an instant when a breeze stirs ships' sails along with several flags, while the sun catches ripples in the shimmering water.

In presenting his works at McBride Gallery, Schmidt took time to answer questions about how an artist learns to paint shimmering light and moving air, and why he enjoys painting scenes from Annapolis.

A native of Bayonne, N.J., Schmidt grew up with a view of Manhattan before earning a chemical engineering degree from Cornell. While working at a nuclear power plant in northern Massachusetts, he was struck by "the gorgeous countryside," he says, and "decided to learn how to paint landscapes."

"I didn't paint until Oct. 20, 1962, when I took my first lesson from Massachusetts outdoor landscape artist Steve Maniatty," Schmidt says. "We painted every Saturday every month, except December and January, when it was bitter cold. We did morning and afternoon charcoal sketches in light and shadow in situations where light holds only two to three hours. Later, another instructor and spectacular painter, Carl Illig of Buffalo, also sketched first in charcoal. Asked why he outlined borders in charcoal, Illig replied, 'I have to know where I'm going.'"

Like his teachers, Schmidt knows well the thought processes and effort involved in creating spontaneity. Also like his predecessors, he spent years starting his plein air studies by sketching in charcoal. Only on a 1988 visit to Paris with his wife, Dottie — "who critiques all paintings" — did Schmidt begin to carry a second sketchbook to capture in oil his first impressions of scenes, as Dottie customarily did in her photographs.

His engineering training is evident in an aspect of his preliminary work. He uses a compass that he rotates to the north to create a sundial for later use in sketching.

"First, we have to lay out the scene when painting, looking at the sky," Schmidt says. "Whatever you do, the sky will be reflected in the water. If the sky is gray, the water will not be blue."

The results of Schmidt's 50 years of painting can be observed at McBride Gallery, where his works show a painter at the top of his craft who captures color and shadows that excite our senses, jogging our memory when viewing a favorite location.

In addition to summoning memories of the recent Sailabration festivities, Schmidt's "Sunset, Fort McHenry" may cause native Baltimoreans to recall with pride the elementary school lessons about the 1814 bombardment and Francis Scott Key's writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Here, the fort is revealed in all its majesty, in subdued colors that lend splendid serenity.

Schmidt's art is available in a wide price range to accommodate all collectors looking to brighten their homes.