Artists look at Arabbers proves to be a mixed bag


Photographer Roland L. Freeman has made "The Arabbers of Baltimore" famous far and wide through his book and exhibit of that title. He takes us deep into the lives of these people whose carts and cries are so dear to the hearts of Baltimoreans. He shows them as more than just a quaint custom; he reveals them as a close-knit community of people who provide a valuable service to many who live in the city.

The exhibit of Freeman's photographs appeared here just two years ago at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Now he has brought it back as part of a three-part show at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center (Gallery 409) called "Expressions of the Soul: Three Perspectives on Baltimore's African-American Folklife."

The title makes this project, curated by Freeman, sound like a really good idea, but the show itself doesn't work out as well as one would hope.

Freeman's photographs are as good as they always were, but they aren't new to Baltimore, and they were much better installed at the museum.

Joy Alston is a self-taught Baltimore folk, or naive, artist whom Freeman discovered in 1988. She, too, celebrates the Arabbers in some of her watercolors, as well as other aspects of everyday life such as "Making a Quilt," "Putting Baby to Bed," "Playtime," "Watching TV." Alston's work benefits from her use of color, her enthusiasm and, at times, a touch of humor.

The third part of the show is a group of quilts by local quilt makers. Barbara G. Pietila's "They Sold Nettie Down South" is a pictorial quilt with a dramatic depiction of the cruel, forced shattering of families in African-American history. Her "Arab" quilt helps tie the three parts of the show together. And Elizabeth Talford Scott and Joyce Scott's "Monsters, Dragons and Flies" is a dynamic, original work. Unfortunately, some of the other quilts are much less interesting.

The exhibit continues through Mar. 31 at the Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center, 409 North Charles Street. Call 396-1300.

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