Baltimore City

Art on the Trail installation offers hikers 'something else to see'

Matt Roy and Dani Loibl were hiking on the Red Trail in Robert E. Lee Park on Dec. 7, when they passed a patch of woods with white stones stacked in groupings on the ground.

All sorts of thoughts went through their heads. Loibl, 38, of Locust Point, had a vision of the hit horror movie "The Blair Witch Project," while Roy, 37, of Pikesville, flashed back to his time as a contractor in Afghanistan, where villagers stacked stones as warning signs of land mines left over from the Soviet war in the 1980s.


But their fears were calmed by a small sign in front of the stones. The sign, similar to one that might be found at an exhibit in the Baltimore Museum of Art or the Walters Art Museum, announced the stones as "Meditation and Observation," an installation by Roland Park artist Debra Diamond, who described it as "ancient trail markers of stacked stone, in a conical form, to sustain harmony with the community and the environment. Known as Cairns, the stacks are a visual metaphor, a symbol, a prayer, an art form. This site is meant to honor the land and elicit spiritual communication."

"What a great use of space," said Roy, who works for the federal government and likes to walk the trail. "Just the fact that something is a little different makes it nice."


Loibl agreed — after she saw the sign.

"Thank God," she said.

"Meditation and Observation" is one of six art works that have been or are being installed along the 2-mile trail as part of "Art on the Trail," a new program led by nature lover Kurt Davis, of Mount Washington, and Park Ranger Shannon Davis, no relation, of Lutherville, whose idea it was.

"I thought it would be really cool to add winter interest to the park. It's something else (for hikers) to look at," Shannon Davis said. She said the trail follows the old Greenspring branch of the Baltimore Susquehanna Railroad that run past Lake Roland.

All but one of the six art installations are expected to be completed by Dec. 12, when there will be a kickoff hike from 1-3 p.m., with cider and snacks. And in February 2015, there will be a grand opening and a meet-and-greet with the artists, all of whom bought supplies and did the installations for free, with a little help from park officials.

"It'll be like a gallery opening," said Kurt Davis, a retired advertising and marketing executive and a founding member of Robert E. Lee Park's Paw Point dog park committee. He said organizers hope to expand the program over time to include more artists.

Other installations include:

• Thomas Mulligan's "American Gothic Redux," based on the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood of a farmer and his wife standing with a pitchfork in front of a house.


• Jude Asher's "Naiad & Dryad," depicting two female figures from Greek mythology, one of them a tree nymph, rising in a dance from earth and water into the light.

• Ashley Kidner's "Circular Earth Transfer with River Rock," which is influenced partly by burial mounds and stone circles found in the British Isles.

• Howard and Mary McCoy's two separate installations, "Flying High" and "Sacred Grove." The first is composed of feathers hanging from invasive vines, "emblematic of the traditional shaman's flight to the spirit world to seek guidance for his or her tribe's healing," the couple said. The second installation wraps traditional orange Buddhist scarves around 11 trees as an environmental statement that the trees are part of a sacred grove.

'The nature of nature'

The installations not yet done have signs saying "Work in progress. Please do not disturb."

The idea of the juried artworks, selected by a seven-member committee from 11 entries, was to have them blend into the landscape with the understanding that they might eventually decay or be swept way by the elements and go back to nature.


"All the artists understand that it may disappear. That's the nature of the beast," Kurt Davis said.

"That's the nature of nature," Shannon Davis said.

"Love the art," said a passing jogger.

"It's kind of a 'wow' moment," Shannon Davis said. She said Art on the Trail is especially good for those who aren't normally "art people," and wouldn't see the artwork in a more traditional setting.

"I also think art and nature tie really well together," she said.

"I thought it was a unique way to let people get in touch with art," said Kurt Davis, who is certified as a master naturalist and a master gardener. He is especially wowed by "Sacred Grove," saying it's his favorite, partly because of the story behind it.


According to the McCoys, who live on the Eastern Shore, they got the idea from a story they heard about, in which Buddhist monks in Thailand "ordained" a forest in 1998 to save it from being cut down by loggers. Some of the loggers, themselves Buddhist, saw the trees wrapped in scarves and refused to cut the trees down, the McCoys said.

Mary McCoy, 60, and her husband, 70, found out about Art on the Trail through their work at Adkins Arboretum on the Eastern Shore, where they stage an art show every other year. Coincidentally, Kurt Davis took a master naturalist course at Adkins.

The McCoys speak in artistic terms of eco-spiritualism, flying shamans and sacred ground at Robert E. Lee Park, Howard McCoy assured a reporter that they have their own feet firmly on the ground.

"We didn't go in there and drop LSD," he said, laughing. "We don't inhale."

Mary McCoy said Art on the Trail is a practical way to draw visitors to the park "and focus people's attention on the environment around them. I thin it's wonderful."

"it inspires them to look closer at what's there," Howard McCoy said.

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Beyond canvas

Asher, a former Charles Village resident, now of East Baltimore, created Naiad & Dryad, and said she has installed artworks previously in Leakin Park.

"I love doing outdoor stuff," said Asher, who is in her 60s. "I hope it adds to the park experience and I hope people learn art can be outside the canvas — that it doesn't have to be a painting or an immediately recognizable sculpture to be art."

Asher is unconcerned that her female figures will be only temporary.

"As time passes, fresh vines will over grow them," she writes in her synopsis for the public. "They will decay and return to the earth."

Diamond, the Roland Park artist, said all of her artwork uses natural elements and that she got the idea for stacking stones from her hiking trips in New Mexico, where she said the practice is more common as a way to create meditative space.


"Nature is a beautiful backdrop for art," said Diamond, also a senior citizen. "Why shouldn't [park-goers] be able to expand their experience by having an additional visual experience?"