Preservation through painting

The Baltimore Sun

After 30 years of lobbying, campaigning and organizing to save open spaces in Maryland, Nancy Lee Davis of Clarksville has turned to a different preservation tool: the paintbrush.

Davis, a founder of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, has been personally drawn to barns, old houses and open fields - particularly on the Eastern Shore - as subjects for her oil paintings. She said she realized that "I could at least capture on canvas those things that were disappearing."

Her paintings are on display at the Artists' Gallery in the American Cities Building in Columbia through May 25.

Davis said she got involved in preservation causes while raising her children, who are now grown. She still is a board member and past president of the league. She lobbied the state legislature as a volunteer with the Sierra Club of Maryland, and she was president of the Sierra Club's Howard County Group, as well.

In recent years, Davis has cut back on her political activities and increased her painting.

She was juried in to be a member of the cooperative Artists' Gallery about two years ago. Each member of the gallery can exhibit a couple of works each month while one artist has a larger, featured show on a rotating basis.

Diane Dunn, a fellow gallery member, said Davis shows a sensitivity in her painting. "It is obvious she really loves her subject matter," she said.

Davis said her environmental activities certainly made her aware of the disappearing land, and the issue was further brought home to her when she realized some of the old mansions and barns she painted a few years ago are no longer standing.

"I felt more compelled to be witness to them in the art," she said. "I hope the sense of awe that I feel when I'm in the landscape is captured," she said, "so I can share it with the viewer."

While her enjoyment of landscapes and "nostalgic" subjects has remained steady, Davis said her technique has developed with classes at Howard Community College and workshops with visiting artists.

She likes to paint as much as she can on location, although she will finish a work in her studio with help from a photograph. She said she has always captured the larger shapes in a landscape, gravitating naturally to a more impressionistic and less detail-driven style.

Davis is particularly known for using a broad range of sometimes vivid colors, resulting in paintings that are less literal and more expressionistic.

For example, her painting, House Near Blackwater, has green and purple hues in the sky, touches of blue in the shadows falling on a white house and shades of rust and pink in the weedy grass. The painting Balloon Man is one in which she captures a figure in a landscape, featuring a seller with two bunches of bright balloons among violet-tinged shadows.

Her use of color is broad, but "there is nothing contrived or unnatural," said Cher Compton, also an Artist's Gallery member. "It's just honest," she said. "She's responding to what she sees when she's out there."

"You say you want to see more colors, and you see them," Davis said. "Thinking and analyzing makes them disappear. I try to get that impression of color, the immediacy."

The Artists' Gallery is at 10227 Wincopin Circle, Columbia. Information: 410-740-8249.

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