The late architect, developer and philanthropist Francis Koenig owned 30 acres of choice woodland in Solomons and didn't know what to do with it.
That was several decades ago. Koenig and his wife, Annmarie, now also deceased, found their answer in pilgrimages to some of the world's premier sculpture gardens. Why not a sculpture garden and art center for Southern Maryland?
The result was Annmarie Garden, today a singular spot off Dowell Road, Solomons.
Blending the forest's whisper with the hum of creativity, Annmarie is a site for all seasons. Art Fest is a popular autumn event. Inspirational Walk is held by Special Olympics of Calvert County. Tales for a Haunted Trail is the annual bow to Halloween.
And now comes Christmas. Garden of Lights begins tomorrow and continues through Jan. 2. (Hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and admission is $5 per drive-through.) This time of year, the garden sparkles with caprice, with wonders equal to any fantasy setting Hans Christian Andersen might have daydreamed.
In the past, there have been undersea scenes, skating scenes, celestial scenes. This year, there are an enchanted kingdom, sculptures in lights and more.
"It's not your usual Christmas light show," says Stacy Ruff, director of Annmarie Garden.
Jaimie Jeffrey, one of three staff members, laughs as she remembers how "some people go through five or six times a night, again and again."
Ruff says of Koenig, "He wasn't ostentatious. He didn't live an extravagant lifestyle. But he was a man of vision."
Dwayne Beckhorn is president of the Koenig Private Foundation. He knew Koenig well. "He was a very interesting chap," says Beckhorn, "and a very sagacious investor.
"He was his own general when it came to developing and constructing homes," he observes. Koenig pioneered the cluster concept in subdivisions he introduced in Fairfax County, Va.
Beckhorn and Ruff agree that Annmarie Garden has been boosted by its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, specifically the Hirshhorn Gallery. According to Joanne Flores, who heads the affiliation office at the Smithsonian, Annmarie has the largest number of works-on-loan of all program participants. Flores says benefactor Olga Hirshhorn attended the opening of the garden's show of her sculptures and was thrilled, proclaiming that the works looked much better in Annmarie's forests than they ever had on Hirshhorn land.
The sculptures are contemporary, most abstract and handsome. Marseille by Cesar. Six Number Two by Kenneth Snelson. Three Red Lines by George Rickey. There are biomorphic pieces inspired by nature, geometric pieces rooted in industrial design, kinetic sculptures that seem to sway with the rhythm of branches in a breeze.
In addition, one realistic sculpture - a Paul Bunyanesque oysterman - dominates space in its corner of the garden. A small inscription pays tribute to this endangered species: "Working on the scene by dawn / in all kinds of weather, / The waterman is / a breed apart."
Beckhorn observes that, in the Smithsonian pieces, "We have some really significant artworks, not junk. ... Our goal is, with limited funds, to do the most we can, displaying the best we can."
Then, too, there are the seahorses.
The Philadelphia area has its "Miles of Mules," Baltimore had its "Fish Out of Water," New York and other cities had their painted cows, and, not to be outdone, Solomons has its "Seahorses by the Bay."
In cooperation with area schools, the garden and others are auctioning fiberglass seahorses taller than the students who decorated them. Proceeds go to the schools, to be used for art-related programs. See www.publicartnetwork.com or www.annmariegarden.org.
If Annmarie Garden has a mission, it is bespoken along the forest trail: "Educate but Celebrate," a sign declares.
Other holiday activities
Other holiday doings include the 20th Solomons Christmas Walk. Tomorrow and Saturday, small boats will be strung with lights, and a parade, caroling and Santa are planned. Merchants expanding their hours include: Grandmother's Store, 3892 Dowell Road (antiques and gifts), 410-326-3366; Victoria's Florist on H.B. Truman Road, 410-394-2717; and Sea Gull Cove Gifts, 14488 Solomons Island Road, 410-326-7182.
Also, the Calvert Marine Museum on Route 4 will take part in the festival. The museum is featuring Skates and Rays. Call 410-326-2042.
Where to eat
The C.D. Cafe and Lounge, 14350 Solomons Island Road, Avondale, offers a leisurely atmosphere where fresh seafood excels. Call 410-326-3877.
The Drydock Restaurant at Zahnis' Marina, C Street on Back Creek, is an intimate gem that features seafood and beef. Reservations are requested. Call 410-326-4817.
China Harbor Seafood Restaurant at Patuxent Plaza, 13958 Solomons Island Road, is another good variation on the seafood theme. Call 410-326-6888.
You'll find four-star crab cakes at Stoney's Kingfishers Captain's Grill, 14442 Solomons Island Road. Call 410-394-0236.
From Interstate 695, take Interstate 97 to Route 3, which becomes U.S. 301 South. Take Route 4 South to Solomons. Turn left on Dowell Road at Solomons Firehouse. Watch for the sign. Annmarie Garden is less than 1/4 mile on the left.
See www.ecalvert.com or call the Calvert County Department of Economic Development, 410-535-4583 or 800-331-9771.
For more regional trips, see Page 41.