Ellicott City looks good from any angle at ‘Paint It!’ show

Ellicott City looks good from any angle at ‘Paint It!’ show
Kathleen Kotarba, "Looking Up at Ellicott City" (Courtesy photo)

Although two floods in recent years had a devastating effect along Main Street in Ellicott City, the paintings, watercolors and pastels in “Paint It! Ellicott City 2019” attest to the fact that the old mill town is here to stay.

This annual exhibit at the Howard County Center for the Arts showcases the results of a plein air paint-out held in late June.


You can sense the pride that people take in the historic district in the works selected by the exhibit’s juror, Nancy Tankersley, an artist who founded a similar plein air event in Easton.

In that regard, it’s emotionally stirring to see how many of the selected pieces depict buildings from which United States and Maryland flags are flying. Sid Branham’s oil painting “Railroad Flags” calls your attention to flags flying just outside the entrance to the B&O Railroad Museum. Similar displays can be seen in works including Chris Rapa’s oil painting “Revival,” and Erin Pryor Gill’s pastels “Flags Down Main” and “Two and a Half Stories.”

The determination and optimism in such patriotic displays comes across especially well in Amanda Milliner’s oil painting “New Day, New Beginnings,” because the painting emphasizes how the morning sun plays across building facades that are displaying flags. There is a symbolic sense that a new day is dawning in the old town.

Other artists in the exhibit have depictions of landmark structures that like the town itself endure. Jill Glassman’s oil painting “Road to Recovery” depicts the Fire House Museum; the artist’s assertive brush strokes used to represent the streets to either side of it have a confidence that verges on painterly swagger. Much quieter is Mike McSorley’s oil painting “Ellicott City Station Museum,” in which soft shades of gray convey how the B&O Railroad Museum remains solidly in place.

A number of artists spent that recent plein air weekend along lower Main Street, meaning that the railroad bridge crossing Main Street, the Main Street bridge crossing the Patapsco River and the river itself figure prominently in their artwork.

Examples include Ronaldo Dorado’s watercolor “Vintage Sign,” Greg Johannesen’s pastel “Crossings,” and Amanda Milliner’s oil painting “Almost Home.” By way of pride of place, a really striking example is Sid Branham’s oil painting “EC Bridge,” which emphasizes sharp lettering and assertive colors for the town name posted on the railroad bridge above Main Street.

Set down along the river is Duane Lutsko’s oil painting “Washington Mill.” Its massive concrete towers dominate the composition, and there is a blue pickup truck parked in foreground to provide a sense of scale at the mill complex.

As for the river itself, several artists depict its thankfully modest normal flow. Indeed, there is a genuine sense of calm in Zachary Kator’s oil painting “Patapsco River,” Marita Hines’ watercolor “Down By the River,” and Michael Kotarba’s watercolor “Tributary.” These artists often favor gentle shades of gray and brown for the river and its rocks.

As for the steep hills rising above Main Street, several artists give a keen sense of the elevation involved. Kathleen Kotarba’s oil painting “Looking Up at Ellicott City” makes you feel as if you too are looking up into the hills and towards a church steeple near the top of the composition.

Besides making creative decisions about where to set up their easels within the historic district, these artists also made decisions about the time of day and accompanying atmospheric mood.

Chris Rapa’s oil painting “Morning Glory” has a purple-hued church steeple rising above a town depicted with the softened gray tones one would expect to encounter in very early morning. By way of contrast, hanging next to “Morning Glory” is Debra Howard’s oil painting “Red Light, Green Light.” This nocturnal composition has at its center a traffic signal, an illuminated store window, and an orange traffic barrel serving as a reminder that roadwork and other repairs continue here.

“Paint It! Ellicott City 2019” runs through Aug. 9 in Gallery I at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is a group exhibit, “Persona,” which features Oluwatobi Adewumi, Leah Taylor, Charlotte Mann and Temi Wynston Edun. Call 410-313-2787 or go to

Jill Glassman, “Road to Recover”
Jill Glassman, “Road to Recover” (HANDOUT)