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Ellicott City is ready for its portrait

Sara Kahn, “Shakespeare's The Tempest at PFI.”
Sara Kahn, “Shakespeare's The Tempest at PFI.”(Courtesy Photo)

It's heartwarming to walk along Main Street in Ellicott City and see how well it has recovered from last summer's devastating flood. One gets the same impression walking through the exhibit "Paint It! Ellicott City 2017" at the Howard County Center for the Arts.

This annual plein air paint-out event involves artists working outdoors on a July weekend and then exhibiting the resulting paintings, watercolors and pastels at the arts center. Jurored by Hai-Ou Hou, this year's selection of artwork strikes a nice balance between works that visually hug the Main Street corridor and other works that essentially spend a lazy day on the Patapsco River.

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Painted just a few days after the 4th of July, Sid Branham's oil painting "Main Street" calls your attention to the patriotic bunting adorning a first-floor storefront. Other artists also give a sense of street life returning to normal along Main Street.

Ellicott City is a very hilly place and so it's not surprising that some artists tend to observe the view from Main Street up into the hills flanking it. Ann Schaefer's oil painting "Looking Up in Ellicott City," for instance, is a sharp-angled look up at a church steeple and the courthouse cupola near the top of the composition.

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Venturing up into those hills, Raymong Ewing's oil painting "Summer Shadows" amounts to being a portrait of a house atop a hill; indeed, a mighty long flight of steps leads up to that house. Similarly, Ann J. Crostic's oil painting "Sun on a Hill" emphasizes a winding, hilly street in the foreground and an old house in the background.

Nearly 12 months after a flash flood ravaged the historic Ellicott City, destroying businesses and killing two people, dozens of artists set up along Main Street to paint the town

Another picture that amounts to being an architectural portrait is Michael Kotarba's watercolor ""Twins," which presents two white-painted wood frame houses standing side by side in what feels like high-ground isolation.

An artist who definitely sets up high above Main Street is Sara Kahn. Her watercolor "Shakespeare's The Tempest at Patapsco Female Institute" depicts a recent performance by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Co.. The moon above the stage is particularly appropriate in this year's exhibit, because other artists also opt for atmospheric effects and sometimes nocturnal settings.

Lida Malheson Stiefel's oil painting "Rainy Morning" gives a sense of one of those gray-hued days when the definitional lines for buildings, cars and the street itself seem to be washed out. There's one person under an umbrella on this stretch of Main Street, and one suspects everybody else is indoors lingering over a cup of coffee.

Edging into the evening hours, Debra Howard's oil painting "Evening - Ellicott City" has a palette of browns and grays that seems apt for the hour. As daylight nearly disappears, street lights and car headlights provide a helpful bit of illumination.

Venturing into night, Alison Leigh Menke's oil painting "Lights Around the Bend" has painterly dabs of light coming from the buildings and cars in a street scene that's otherwise nearly obscured by a deep-black sky.

Other nocturnal scenes include Alexander Wissel's oil painting "Friday Night Lights" and Bruno Baran's oil painting "Waning Gibbous Moon Over Ellicott City."

Whether setting up on Main Street or higher in the hills, most of these artists present the built environment at various times of day. There are other artists in the show, however, who prefer river views that only have the occasional bridge or person to remind you that civilization is nearby.

This pastoral quality is nicely conveyed in works including Matt Fenton IV's oil painting "The Patapsco from Oella," Caroline Goldsmith's oil painting "All Quiet at Patapsco River," Chrissy Pahucki's acrylic painting "One Stone at a Time" and Debra Howard's oil painting "Stacked Rocks on the Patapsco River."

An overt reminder that artists came to town for this annual paint-out event is Paul Keysar's oil painting "Painting on the Patapsco." It's such a calm scene along the river that it may take you a moment to notice the small figure of a painter who is standing at the water's edge and doubtless making a painting much like the one you're looking at now.

"Paint It! Ellicott City 2017" runs through Aug. 11 in Gallery I at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is an exhibit featuring Lisa Moren and Io Palmer. Call 410-313-2787 or go to www.hocoarts.org



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