Year in and year out, the hardworking instructors at the Maryland Institute College of Art focus their energy on the students in their charge. But even these indefatigable mentors occasionally need time off to recharge their own creative batteries.
A charmingly illustrated fable featuring an artist mouse and her mate; screens of muslin fabric ingeniously cut and crafted to resemble the labor-intensive arabesques and winding floral designs of Moorish decorative painting; photograms whose floral motifs suggest the crystalline structure of snowflakes - they're all on view in the Sabbatical Exhibition at MICA, which presents the works of eight faculty members who spent the 2006-2007 academic year on leave.
Just as there's no single style that dominates the contemporary art scene, the work produced by MICA faculty is characterized by radical pluralism. These are all established artists who know exactly what they want to do and how to do it. They all follow their own muses.
Lois Hennessey's An Unexpected Trip to the Beach, for example, may look like a traditional children's book. But in fact, it's a witty, creative memoir whose episodes mainly are meant to explore fundamental problems of composition and color.
That won't keep the kid in you from losing yourself completely in the story, however. Hennessey's characters, a lovable pair of orphaned mice named Tweeny and Wheat, awake to find themselves at the beach after having fallen asleep in a lady's picnic basket the previous evening.
They're helped out by a frog, befriended by a bird, rescued by a rabbit and then almost eaten by a gull before ... well, suffice it to say the tale's a page-turner that's cute but never saccharine, thanks to Hennessey's pungent drawing and sure-footed comedic sensibility.
Comedy of the absurd kind, by contrast, animates the photographs of Jack Wilgus, the longtime head of MICA's undergraduate photo department.
Wilgus spent last year traveling the country snapping such improbable architectural landmarks as a restroom shaped like a giant duck and an office tower built to look like - shades of Tweeny and Wheat! - a humongous picnic basket.
One surveys these unapologetic monuments to decorative kitsch and can't help wondering: "Whose idea was this?" Mercifully, Wilgus seems content merely to report without comment on monstrosities that someone obviously meant to set tongues wagging. He lets you tut-tut or laugh uproariously as the spirit moves you.
The show also includes works by Susan Waters-Ella, Chezia Thompson Cager, Laurie Snyder, Whitney Sherman, Piper Shepard and Margaret Morrison.
"Sabbatical Exhibition" runs through Sept. 9 in the Decker Gallery of the Fox Building at MICA, 1303 Mount Royal Ave. Call 410-225-2300 or go to www.mica.edu.