Ellicott City artist Lisa M. Scarbath needs materials for a commemorative mosaic, and she is asking the community for help.
In honor of Ellicott City’s 250th anniversary in 2022, Scarbath is planning to create a mosaic of its skyline using items that represent Ellicott City, according to those who donated them.
Since June, Scarbath has received several items, including old keys, a broken figurine found in the Patapsco River, an Ellicott City 225th anniversary button and a front panel of a post office box from the former Ellicott City Main Street post office. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball even presented her with a piece of stone from the former courthouse built in the 1840s.
“I think I am going to have to break this up,” Scarbath said, moving the large piece from hand to hand. “It may not be recognizable by the time it is in the mosaic.”
Donated items will not be returned and, depending on the design, might be altered, Scarbath said. She will not accept photographs, fabric or dried flowers that will deteriorate outdoors.
“I am asking for materials smaller than your hand. Nothing biodegradable,” Scarbath said. “The base [of the mosaic] will be cement foam board.”
The most important part of the donation, Scarbath said, is the story that accompanies the item. In just one or two lines, Scarbath is asking each donor to explain why the piece represents Ellicott City to them.
The piece of the historic courthouse symbolizes “justice, fairness and access for all,” Ball said when presenting Scarbath with the stone, ”a strong foundation to build upon.”
“I am getting really thoughtful material,” said Scarbath, though she is quick to add that anything is welcome. “It doesn’t have to be something special. It could just be a pebble from your driveway.”
Ed Lilley, a longtime Ellicott City resident and local historian, said Scarbath’s project is a great idea, and he has submitted several items, including the post office box door.
“The post office was kind of a meeting place for people where you caught up on the news,” Lilley said. “I had a box many years ago. A lot of small towns are losing their post offices. I thought it was a shame when we lost ours.”
Scarbath plans to publish the stories anonymously but will include a separate list of those who submitted items.
A board member of EC250, the nonprofit formed to raise funds and support the 250th anniversary of Ellicott City, Lilley is thrilled Scarbath chose to recognize the community’s milestone anniversary by including the public in the mosaic’s creation.
“We are happy to see other people get involved,” Lilley said. “We have a whole series of things planned if Mother Nature cooperates. Between weather and germs, Mother Nature does whatever she wants.”
A lawyer and a former adjunct professor at Stevenson University, Scarbath has been a full-time artist for just over a year. While she has worked with stained glass for many years, mosaics sparked her imagination more with its different mediums.
“So many techniques and not enough time,” Scarbath said while in her studio at the Howard County Arts Council filled with dishes, glass pieces, photos and more. “I can’t believe I had all of this in my house.”
She jumped head first into her new profession after learning that an Ocean City store had sold out of her steampunk crab figures at the same time she found out she was not selected to be a full-time professor at Stevenson University.
“Things happen for a reason. I am going to concentrate on this,” Scarbath said. “What a leap, from the legal world to doing this full time.”
After teaching her last class in fall 2019, Scarbath started focusing on her art. She applied for studio space at the Howard County Arts Council and moved into it in July 2020.
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The idea to create a community mosaic took hold after Scarbath listened to other artists at a conference in February about their community-oriented projects.
“Putting all these ideas together lit a fire,” said Scarbath, who was originally considering a project for the fifth anniversary of the deadly 2016 flood when she was informed it would be the 250th anniversary of Ellicott City in 2022.
With guidance from the staff at the Howard County Arts Council, Scarbath received a Creativity Grant from the Maryland State Arts Council to help fund the project. The Howard arts council has also helped promote her project on its website and at the center.
“We love the idea and have assisted her anyway we can,” said Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council. “We always love when artists want to do some community projects.”
Scarbath hopes to continue collecting items through the beginning of October. She plans to start putting the mosaic together over the winter, with its premiere planned for the Resident Visual Art Exhibit at the council in the spring.
“It is going to take me awhile to make it,” Scarbath said. “I like the challenge. It is a big project.”
Items for the Ellicott City mosaic can be sent to Scarbath at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City, MD 21043.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the Howard County Arts Council.