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Late judge's other life as a sculptor goes on display at Owen Brown gallery


Howard County native James Macgill is most widely recognized as "Your Honor" -- a man with the gavel seated on the bench, presiding over his Howard Circuit courtroom in his judge's robe.

But the former chief judge of Maryland's 5th Circuit Court, who died last year of cancer at 80, also spent a great deal of time in knock-around work clothes, kneeling with chisel and mallet in hand in his rustic, garage-like workshop pursuing another passion -- stone and wood sculptures.

The Foundry Street Gallery in the Owen Brown Shopping Center is presenting a commemorative exhibit of Judge Macgill's wood carvings and stone sculptures, representing 35 years of his work. A reception is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, and the exhibit will run through March 6.

Exhibit coordinator Mikki Saar, a member of the Foundry Street artists cooperative, said she developed the idea for the show at Judge Macgill's memorial service last July.

"I put two or three of his pieces in the lobby at the memorial," said Ms. Saar, a sculptor who worked side-by-side with Judge Macgill through the 1980s at Savage Mill, where they shared models. "People who knew him socially and professionally probably weren't familiar with his art work, so I thought they'd enjoy seeing it."

Sally Tuttle, another member of the Foundry Street cooperative who also worked alongside Judge Macgill at Savage Mill, described the Mount Airy resident as a Renaissance man who enjoyed expressing himself through his art work, a storyteller who appeared "very proper" on the surface yet would spin "bawdy" tales.

"When I first met him soon after he retired, he was studying Greek," Ms. Tuttle said. "Because he was an intellectually curious person, he wanted to read his favorite Greek poets without translation."

Judge Macgill's curiousity about other cultures is evident in his sculptures, said the Foundry Street artists, noting that he was fond of Egyptian and Mayan cultures.

"He liked the solidness of Egyptian sculpture. It's very architectural," Ms. Tuttle said.

Ms. Saar said many of Judge Macgill's sculptures have sensual qualities.

"I think the female form was significant in most of his work," she said. "He thought the female form was beautiful shapes."

Judge Macgill worked on his craft in a bare "sculpture house," a small building on his property with finished pieces stacked around the edges, a few benches and stands, a rocking chair and an open space in the middle, where he knelt on an old piece of carpet, said Ms. Tuttle. He'd move to an outdoor bench overlooking the countryside during pleasant weather.

"Once he retired, he spent the better part of every day sculpting," Ms. Saar said. "To produce the number of pieces he did would have been very time-consuming."

Most of the 24 exhibit pieces are for sale, ranging from $300 to $950, but some are on loan from collectors.

Judge Macgill grew up in a family house that is now the Kings Contrivance restaurant. He graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 1934 with a degree in literature and languages, and earned a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1939.

He joined the American Field Service during World War II and became a volunteer ambulance driver with the British army.

After the war, he returned to Ellicott City to practice law, and became the county's first zoning commissioner, and later, the first planning commissioner.

Then-Gov. Theodore McKeldin appointed him a Circuit Court judge in 1954, a position he held until retiring in 1980.

For information on the exhibit, call (410) 290-8185.

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