The Baltimore Sun

In her studio at Mill Centre, Charlene Clark talks about her paintings and the people she's painted and those who look at them. Among other things, she's a kind of personal historian for residents of Baltimore and Ocean City and lots of the rest of Maryland. She paints the places that live in their memories.

"They're always telling me stories," Clark says. "Constantly."

"One year at Artscape a man pointed to my Edmondson Drive-In painting and yelled, 'I lost my virginity there.' "

The Edmondson Drive-In is gone now. Indeed, lots of the scenes captured by Clark have passed. Her paintings preserve pieces of Baltimore now lost.

For someone who deals in memories, she's surprisingly young - quite youthful, in her early 40s.

"I do tons of research," she says. "Lots and lots of research. For me, that's the fun part. The painting is the hard work.

"That's why I do these spring festivals. You run into people who tell you their experiences with a truck or a movie house or something I don't have."

She's been doing a lot of delivery trucks lately. She painted the Koester bread twins on a picture of a truck. She copied a bread wrapper.

"I looked at this when I was painting the logo on the truck," she says. "Far too many people are claiming to be the Koester twins, in my estimation.

"I should get the names and addresses of all the people who tell me they're the Koester twins. It's a real mystery: Who were the Koester twins?"

If the question appears in the newspaper, she says, 50 people will respond. We'll see.

Never a lesson

And she says she's never had a painting lesson. She just picked up a brush and went to work. A couple of weeks ago she went to a three-day workshop where she painted outside.

"It was really fun," she says. "They put you out on the street. People talk to you and you're painting. You see the color in a much different way. It's called en plein aire painting."

She wanted some input from people who use color differently than she does.

"The colors I use are really strong. I wanted a different experience. I had a ball doing it. I'm interested in how other people see color. I just wanted to learn. I think you can always improve and always learn."

She's painted her grandmother, Margaret Sorensen, on a bowling team, and her mother, Betty Clark, in lots of ways. And she's painted them arriving together in Bermuda aboard the Hanseatic, a German cruise ship.

She's painted lots of women, and she says she did have a paint-women phase.

"I do working-class women," she says. "Baltimore working-class women. I find women interesting to watch. And their idea of dressing up - it can be unique."

First of all, she explains, they don't have the money to dress like models in a fashion magazine.

Using imagination

"They make their own outfits," she says. "That's fun to paint. And you can use your imagination a lot more. I don't want to paint a woman in a Chanel suit. I like looking at the women in cheap dresses and their prints."

She pulls forth another picture.

"That's the old Viaduct Hotel. It's in Relay, and it's on the B&O; china, too," she says. "It was torn down in 1956."

She went back and hung out at the site.

"That's what I do," she says. "A lot of research. A lot of reading. And I talk to people. I'm not like a historian. I'm just curious.

"When I started doing my researrch I went down to the tracks, thinking it would still be there. And it was gone. It overlooked the Patapsco viaduct, which is world-famous. It made such an impression on me I had to paint it to come to terms with it."

And she's painted probably 40 streetcar paintings. She's nothing if not prolific.

" I belong to the Streetcar Museum. I have for a long time. I just love it. What a wonderful bunch of people. The atmosphere is wonderful. Everybody wants to be there."

A lot of her history comes with her paintings.

"My paintings are telling stories," she says. "I think that's what I like to do most, tell stories. That's what my relatives and I love to do. We love to sit around and tell stories."

And she remembers a lot of stories to tell: In the Edmondson Village Shopping Center they had a barber shop, she recalls.

"And in the barber shop there were monkeys. People forget."

She obviously doesn't.

"I remember everything," she says. "That's why I do all this. Painting is a good way to clear the decks, clear the memory. Then new stuff moves in, But I still want to see the monkeys."

And probably paint them, too.


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