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Meet Howard County Library System’s ‘famous’ artist-in-residence

Kids are clamoring for art teacher Laura Wolf’s autograph this summer, even though school just ended a few weeks ago.

Wolf, who is on staff at Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City, is the Howard County Library System’s first summer artist-in-residence. Visitors can watch her work, ask questions and take part in a group art project.

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After glimpsing the artist’s smiling face on the current cover of “Source,” the library system’s program guide, “Kids come up to me and say, ‘We saw you on the magazine. You’re famous,’ ” Wolf said with a laugh.

“I like to tell them I’m only a very, very local celebrity,” Wolf joked, though she happily signs the glossy copies the kids are clutching when they enter her studio in a first-floor conference room.

Wolf will be working at the Miller Branch on most Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Aug. 31. Her schedule is available at hclibrary.org/air.

The Ellicott City resident, 35, decided to become an art teacher as a first grader at West Friendship Elementary School.

“I’ve only been painting as a side business since 2015, but I’ve created art all my life,” said Wolf, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education from Towson University.

Wolf mostly creates her brightly colored paintings from photographs she takes of birds and other animals at zoos, parks, aquariums and wildlife refuges. Her preferred medium is acrylic paint.

Her 10-year-old Green-Cheeked Conure, Pippa, is one of her favorite subjects. The small parrot, who can say her own name, likes to perch on Wolf’s shoulder and cuddle up against her neck.

“I love birds and I would go birding every day if I could,” Wolf said.

Wolf even organized a March Madness Bird Bracket on social media last year, sorting birds into such categories as weird, fierce, cute and gorgeous. It was so much fun she plans to do it again.

Along with birds, the artist’s subjects also include a zebra, elephant, bear, raccoon and, of course, a wolf.

“My enthusiasm for animals compels me to do this work as much as my love of painting,” she said. “Animals are invisible, in a way, and we should be inclined to protect them.”

Studio visitors can pitch in to help protect birds by making vinyl window clings to be adhered to one of Miller’s many windows.

The art installation is designed to prevent the possibility of a window strike, which occurs when multiple birds are killed after mistakenly flying into an expanse of glass that mirrors the natural world.

“The clings will be placed on the outside of a window to disrupt its shiny reflection, which is a huge threat to birds,” Wolf said.

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While Wolf has followed the typical artist’s route of craft fairs and art shows in her spare time, last year she started something new.

To assist with Old Ellicott City’s ongoing recovery from a second flash flood in May 2018, Wolf is donating the proceeds from online sales of prints and note cards made from her Main Street paintings to the Ellicott City Partnership.

Wolf will give a talk about her life as an artist at a reception at the Miller Branch from 3 to 4 p.m. Aug. 10.

The library residency was meant to be, she said.

Wolf submitted a proposal in the fall for the creation of a summer artist-in-residence position at the precise time Allison Jessing, the library’s events and seminars manager, was researching how such a program might be set up in Howard County.

“It was a good moment of synchronicity,” said Jessing, who has two art degrees and previously developed arts-inspired programming at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Wolf came along at the right time and with the right skills to be the first artist in what will likely become an annual program that rotates among the library’s six branches, Jessing said.

Tonya Kennon, library system president and CEO, has asked the staff to place a greater emphasis on the arts curriculum.

Kennon, who took the library’s helm in April 2018, said experiencing and making art “reduces stress while increasing problem-solving skills and creativity.”

That’s also why the library launched its 300-piece art education collection in March, which permits cardholders ages 18 and older to check out framed prints and photographs at the Central Branch in Columbia, she said.

While Wolf’s love of birds and other creatures is on display at Miller, her skills in the classroom are less known outside of her school.

Robert Bruce, Veterans Elementary principal, hired Wolf when the school opened in 2007.

“Laura is always capable of dazzling me when I visit her class,” Bruce said.

“Artistic people can be hard to read sometimes,” he said, “but Laura has the ability to transfer her knowledge and skills to the students and they all love her.”

Tomi Adebo, a financial analyst and mother of two Veterans Elementary students, said it was her son’s idea to visit Wolf on June 29, the second day her studio was open.

“We had just completed summer tutoring classes in the morning, and I said they could have pizza and ice cream as a reward,” Adebo said.

But the boys — Tobi, 8, and Kore, 6 — had a slightly different plan in mind.

“They said Miss Wolf is awesome, and they wanted to go see her first,” said Adebo, who was amazed at the boys’ insistence.

“Miss Wolf gives kids multiple ways to engage with art in her studio and she even plays bird calls for them,” she said of their visit. “But the main thing is that she’s always positive, patient and kind.”

Kennon said the library’s summer artist-in-residence program may be expanded to include performing artists as well since it’s off to a banner start this year.

“We think we’re already STEAM-based,” she said, referring to the expanded acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and math programming. “Scaling up our offerings will further enhance the way our communities connect to art.”

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