Linda DeCarlo is a partner at Off Track Art Gallery Cooperative in Westminster. Her first memories of making artwork were in kindergarten. She folded papers to make fans. “I thought it was so clever,” DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo has always experimented with art. “I was always playing with sticks and rocks and building forts. I built racetracks for my brother. I have memories of weaving with grass reeds and constructing rock formations. I have been creating art with natural materials ever since,” DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo took every art class at Franklin High School in Reisterstown. Her favorite art class was during her senior year when she had studio time. “I could just paint and create,” she said. Her first bead making experience was in high school. “I thought it was so cool that I could make my own clay beads, paint them and string them.”
She also learned macramé techniques and weaving on a loom by hand at age 12. “My girlfriends and I sat in the summer and macramed,” DeCarlo remembered.
“I always wanted to be an art teacher because I had been inspired by my teachers,” she said. DeCarlo attended Hood College and majored in art education. She got a job the day before school started at a junior-senior high school. “I tried to look grown up. It didn’t work,” DeCarlo said.
After working at two other schools, DeCarlo worked 20 years at Franklin Elementary School and retired on Jan. 1, 2020.
DeCarlo always had a passion for sharing the arts. “I couldn’t pin myself down to one [medium]. I tried as many different genres as possible so I could expose the students to a wide variety of [media],” DeCarlo said. “If I could not reach them with one [medium], I could reach them with another. The biggest challenge with public school is the variety of children that you teach. They range from special needs to gifted and talented to all the wonderfulness in between in the same classroom. They are also from all backgrounds and cultures,” DeCarlo said.
During the summers, DeCarlo focused on her own artwork including making jewelry and creating collages of mixed media.
DeCarlo received a master’s degree in art education at what was then Towson State University (now Towson University).
When DeCarlo was doing her graduate work, she was introduced to Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College, an international arts and music event held every summer.
DeCarlo constantly took art classes to keep her ideas in the classroom fresh. She eventually had the equivalent of three master’s degrees in credits.
“Taking Common Ground classes was motivating and uplifting. Linda Van Hart, an associate professor at McDaniel College and the visual arts coordinator of Common Ground, motivated me to do metal smithing,” DeCarlo said. She also took glass blowing classes from Nolly Gelsinger at Common Ground and made her own beads. “Incredible people inspired me. They made me think of more ideas than I thought was possible,” DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo also took photography from Phil Grout at Common Ground. “I enjoyed that class because the students were between 16 and 80 years old. You get different points of view with the Common Ground classes,” she said.
“Carolyn Seabolt and Linda Van Hart opened their arms and said, ‘Come to Off Track Art and join us.’ I was surprised and thrilled. In the jurying process, I showed them mosaics, jewelry, collage, wind chimes, painting. ‘What do you want me to contribute to the gallery?’ Linda Van Hart said, ‘Do your thing,’” DeCarlo recalled.
“I knew that I could combine my love of beads into collages and mosaics,” DeCarlo said. “A big part of my teaching was environmental art and creating Green School art. It is an award that the county gives to schools that promote environmental issues. I taught students about working with nature and recycled materials. It goes hand in hand with sharing my artwork, which I now call upcycled collages.”
She takes discarded materials that she finds and upcycles them by transforming them into a wall hanging, three-dimensional chandelier or something to wear. For example, she used architectural items such as roof flashing to make beads and mosaics. She also uses antique artifacts: broken pottery, light fixtures and natural materials such as shells, driftwood and stones.
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Preparing for the Oyster Festival on Main Street in Westminster, DeCarlo got oyster shells from friends on the Chesapeake Bay and made collages and wall hangings.
In recent years, DeCarlo started creating combinations of collages and hanging pieces. Everything has upcycled materials and beads. “I often hear people laughing in the gallery at Off Track Art when they find something recognizable from their past in my artwork. Visitors look at a basket turned upside down or a teapot that is now sideways spewing a waterfall of beads. I try to do a bit of whimsy to make you smile,” DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo misses her students and plans to volunteer to work with children in Westminster and host creative workshops in the summer.
Speaking of Off Track Art Gallery Cooperative, DeCarlo said, “We motivate each other and want to uplift Main Street in Westminster. We have started Evergreen Fest in Novembers and have brought the Carroll County Artist Tour to Westminster along with the Carroll County Arts Council participation. David and Wendy Johansson, owners of O’Lordans and Johanssons restaurants, are supporters of the arts and support us in all our Main Street events.”
“Some days you will see the partners have their Off Track Art meetings at American Ice Café in Westminster as well as out front of the gallery in a circle of beach chairs. We discuss how to implement new exhibits to engage the community and be a big part of Main Street with support from Melissa Thompson and the team from recreation and parks. It is an exciting time in Westminster with Sara Imhulse, the new city administrator, actively supporting Main Street businesses,” DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo can be contacted at email@example.com.
Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. Her column, An Eye for Art, appears regularly in Life & Times.