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Laurel 'Funky Holiday' exhibit brings art and community together

David Snipes, an artist from Brandywine, loves portraits inspired by historical and cultural figures. His mixed media portrait, "Black Jesus," is one example of his work.
David Snipes, an artist from Brandywine, loves portraits inspired by historical and cultural figures. His mixed media portrait, "Black Jesus," is one example of his work. (Staff photo by Fatimah Waseem)

When David Snipes was 4 years old, his father told him, "You've got to stop drawing on those walls." Snipes, a local artist who graduated from Frostburg State University in 2006, never did.

A Brandywine resident, Snipes showcased his piece — a mixed media portrait titled "Black Jesus" — at the Laurel District Arts Committee's first project partnership with the Laurel Historical Society on Dec. 17. Much like his own career - Snipes hopes to explore the intersection between art, therapy and education — he says the Laurel arts district brings art and community together.

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The gallery, themed "Funky Holiday," featured art of varying styles and 13 artists from all walks of life. Amy Knox organized the exhibit at her home on Prince George Street in Old Town. It was also one stop of the historical society's Holiday House Tour Dec. 12, during which three pieces were sold.

For Snipes, the Laurel arts scene is a refreshing break from his hometown of Brandywine.

"When I look at people, I see how color plays on different people's faces," Snipes said. More exposure with local artists, he said, helps him appreciate diversity even more.

Created in 2011 by city officials as part of a push to revitalize Main Street and ease zoning restricts for new art businesses, the arts district is a silk road for local artists. The Laurel District Arts Committee, which plans to seek nonprofit status, aims to promote local artists and the establishment of the arts district in the winding Main Street neighborhood, said Ada Ghuman, the committee's president.

Steven Williams, a resident artist at Montpelier Arts Center In South Laurel, has lived in the city since 1990. In the last decade, he said, the arts scene has "really exploded."

Main Street was already home to Laurel Mill Playhouse and Venus Theatre, and the now-closed Laurel Arts Center was one of Main Street's busiest stores. Beyond that, there wasn't much of an "arts scene," Ghuman says.

Ghuman hopes the partnership with the Laurel Historical Society will weave art into the city's history.

The committee hosts events at two Main Street businesses — monthly Meet the Artists happy hours at Olive on Main and rotating monthly exhibits at More than Java Cafe.

The artists of the month events on Olive on Main are filled until the first quarter of 2017, Ghuman said. "They're hungry to show their work."

This month's featured artist was Mamatjan Juma, a former art teacher from China's western-most province, Xinjiang.

"We lean toward funkiness," Ghuman said. "We want to show people trying different things."

Linda Wicksell, a self-trained artist who has lived in Elkridge since 1996 and has had her work featured in many exhibitions, began her latest series — abstract mixed media paintings based on the seasons — by splashing her initials onto canvas in a single stroke. Her piece, "Winter Garden," is a break from her traditional realistic style of art, she says.

Unlike Wicksell, Mary Dreyer Curry recently began dabbling in the arts. The exhibition at Gallery at 515 was her first since she retired as a full-time instrumental music teacher at Forest Ridge Elementary in June. A lover of watercolor, Curry says the events allow her to explore different mediums and art styles.

For Diego Sifuentes, a Laurel resident who served in the military and works in human resources, art is strictly a hobby. Since moving to the city three years ago, Sifuentes sees a shift in the local community's understanding of art.

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Linda Wicksell, an artist from Elkridge who visits many local exhibits, chats with Steven Williams, a resident artist at Montpelier Arts Center.
Linda Wicksell, an artist from Elkridge who visits many local exhibits, chats with Steven Williams, a resident artist at Montpelier Arts Center. (Photo by Fatimah Waseem)

"When you see others' work, you see that you're not doing art just for the public likes," he said. "It's about expressing who you are." Sifuentes, whose name as an artist is Angel, sold 20 paintings at his first showing at Olive on Main in September.

"You can't help but get dragged into it," he said. "It's a community."

"We're not just doing these events and partnerships for the sake of art," Ghuman said. "We are doing this because this is what gives a town life."

For more information on the Laurel Arts District Committee, go to Laurel Arts - LADC on Facebook.

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