Debut of exhibit of photos, artifacts from Patapsco Valley coincides with Ellicott City flood anniversary

Riley Goodman is working on a multi-media exhibit about last summer's Ellicott City flood. The exhibit opens July 29 at the Museum of Howard County History.
Riley Goodman is working on a multi-media exhibit about last summer's Ellicott City flood. The exhibit opens July 29 at the Museum of Howard County History. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

A deep fascination with the Patapsco River took hold of Riley Goodman early in life and never let go.

The photographer and artist — whose first solo art exhibit will open July 29 in Ellicott City — tried at age 5 to drag his neighborhood pals into exploring the river behind his family's home in Catonsville. They hung back on the banks while he waded into shallow water.


Since then, Goodman has persisted in plucking a diverse assortment of objects from the river and its picturesque surroundings year after year — in Catonsville, Ellicott City and Daniels, where relatives lived — almost as if he knew what some of his 800-plus collection of things were destined to become.

"I've always been interested in collecting these objects, which I consider to be silent witnesses to history," said Goodman, a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. "The river shaped me and my family."


To this day, he continues to harvest unlikely treasures and turn them into art that tells a larger story about time, place and genealogy.

Now 21, Goodman will put his lifelong affinity for the 39-mile river on display through an exhibit of recovered objects, photographs and archival works at the Museum of Howard County History on Court Avenue.

"Patapsco: Silent Witnesses to an Enduring Current" is timed to open Saturday with extended hours from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. as part of the Ellicott City Flood Anniversary Commemoration weekend, July 29 to 30.

Events around town to mark the one-year anniversary of the July 30 flooding of Main Street will "commemorate the losses and celebrate the triumphs" in the aftermath of the catastrophic event that claimed two lives and nearly wiped out the historic mill village, according to the websites of the cosponsors, Historic Ellicott City Inc. and the Ellicott City Partnership.


There is no fee to view the Goodman exhibit, which will continue through Sept. 30. It will contain 20 framed objects and photos along with 30 to 40 other stand-alone objects.

"I'm not intending for my work to be an exposition on the 2016 flood, but on the river valley itself," he said.

"There will be opportunity to investigate every piece and examine how each is related to the whole."

As a summer intern in the Department of Photographs at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, Goodman was further inspired by the intersection of art and history as detailed in an article he read on the museum curators who collected artifacts in the aftermath of 9-11.

"'Why should I care?' is a question I get a lot about the objects I collect," he said. "The answer to that is that every object has value and a story to tell. It's important as history progresses to not forget something as small as a spoon."

A recent visit to Patapsco Valley State Park crystallized the basis for his vision of an artistic and thought-provoking multimedia display of the bounty he has uncovered through years of digging and scavenging.

"I started out on a hike in January and noticed some fabric caught in the trees on the Baltimore County side of the Patapsco, between Lost Lake and the Swinging Bridge," he said, noting that he always brings his Canon Rebel T3 digital camera along on such journeys — just in case.

Goodman picks up some of the stuff just to clean up the natural sites he visits, but the ways in which the river alters some of the detritus never fails to intrigue him.

"The fabric I found was stained and twisted and changed by the river, so I began framing it in various ways to create a metaphorical interpretation of the river and its chaos," he said.

Photos of the objects where he found them will also factor into the exhibit.

"I attempt to add the stories told by the objects and those my relatives have told me to create a narrative," he said, adding he sometimes "shrouds an identity to create a sense of mystery."

Will Connally, an instructor of art at VCU, said his former student's body of work speaks to people.

"It's not just art that references art and it isn't insular," he said. "Riley's work brings in his diverse interests and that brings in a wider audience."

Patti Euler, owner of The Queen's Ink at Savage Mill, has known Goodman since he was 10.

"Riley has such a conviction about his approach to art," said Euler, an artist as well as an art shop owner.

"He believes in himself, though not in an arrogant way, and he's wise beyond his years. I think we can expect great things from him."

Shawn Gladden, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society, which is co-sponsoring the exhibit with Patapsco Heritage Greenway, said Goodman's idea was a perfect fit for the museum as the 2016 flooding anniversary approached, especially due to what he said can only be termed "disaster tourism."

"There's been an influx of people who want to see where the flooding took place," Gladden said, noting some people find that premise for visiting Ellicott City distasteful.

"But as Ellicott City recovers and people are embracing that recovery, we'll continue to provide a welcoming venue for curious people, whatever the reason for their visit.

"There's a certain joy in watching someone see what's happening here now — when they only knew what they'd seen last year on TV – and hearing them say 'Wow!'" Gladden said.

Grace Kubofcik, who chairs Patapsco Heritage Greenway's 26-member board of directors, said sponsorship of Goodman's exhibit will be a first for the nonprofit.

"We've had authors on the history of the valley and we've seen more traditional landscapes, but this will provide a unique take on history and I'm expecting it will open our eyes and delight us," she said.

Goodman knows what he wants from this experience.

"I want to allow my own voice to come through while allowing each object to speak for itself," he said.

"By putting my own spin on this, I hope to start a larger conversation about the river valley."


If you go

"Patapsco: Silent Witnesses to an Enduring Current" opens Saturday, July 29, from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Museum of Howard County History, 8328 Court Ave., Ellicott City. Free. Information: 410-461-1050 or hchsmd.org.

The debut coincides with the Ellicott City Flood Anniversary Commemoration. Events July 29 include a Reflect and Remember gathering at 7 a.m.; EC Strong 5K race at 8 a.m.; unveiling of a new town clock in front of the B&O Railroad Museum at 11:30 a.m.; ringing of area church bells at noon and a 12:30 p.m. dedication of cherry trees planted in memory of those who died in the flood. Information: visitoldellicottcity.com/


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