Artistic visions of pre-flood Ellicott City become tools for recovery

For The Baltimore Sun
An exhibit and sale from the Paint It Ellicott City event in July continues through Sept. 30 at the Howard Cou

Admirers of historic Ellicott City may be wishing they could go back in time and take one last look at the quaint mill town as it was before a July 30 flash flood nearly destroyed it and closed Main Street to traffic.

Wish granted, more or less.

Thanks to an extended exhibit and sale of artwork from the Paint It Ellicott City 2016 plein-air art competition, which was held the second weekend of July, people can view the charming historic district once again through the eyes of artists from around the region who worked outdoors to depict the town as a bustling hub of commerce and activity.

Yet the exhibit and sale — which continues through Sept. 30 in the lobby of the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City — represents more than a way to satisfy a sentimental urge or acquire a piece of history.

Proceeds from the sale of certain artworks will be donated to the Recreate: Ellicott City Artist Relief Fund, which was established Aug. 4 by the Howard County Arts Council. Eligible individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations will be able to apply for emergency funding to help re-establish their capacity to live and work.

"Artists love plein-air events and love Ellicott City, and nearly all of those who participated wanted to do something to help" following the flood, explained Coleen West, the arts council's executive director.

The artists behind 11 of the paintings and drawings from the juried plein-air competition — which is named for a French phrase meaning "in the open air" — have pledged to giving all their proceeds to the fund, and the arts council is donating its normal 20 percent commission on exhibit sales.

The artists of 15 other works are donating various percentages of their proceeds.

Most paintings are in the $500 to $900 price range, though there are some as low as $300 and as high as $1,200, West said.

Deborah Maklowski, whose Ellicott City studio is located near the arts center, said she decided to donate all of the proceeds from sales of her plein air art because she understands what Main Street artists and gallery owners are going through.

"I've seen the devastation firsthand," she said, describing her efforts to assist Horse Spirit Art Gallery's owner, Robin Holliday, in salvaging works of art from her ravaged Main Street shop.

"You don't build a gallery overnight. Owners take huge emotional and financial risks to display art that we artists don't have to take, and if I can help make things right, then that's what I want to do," she said.

Maklowski created three environmental landscapes with pastels, which she described as "pigment in stick form."

One of her juried drawings depicts the rock totems people create in the waters of the Patapsco River where it flows under the arched bridge at the base of Main Street, and a second shows the river's current flowing over and around rocks. Her third pastel, originally part of the welcome center exhibit, depicts a building on Main Street's west end.

West said 24 juried works had already been sold — 14 when the exhibit opened and 10 since the relief fund was announced.

Twenty-six pieces remained available as of midweek and will be combined with 25 to 30 works that were created in the plein-air event's "open paint" session for the community. Those works are being transferred from an exhibit that had been set up at the Howard County Welcome Center on Main Street before the flood.

Alison Leigh Menke, who grew up in Clarksville and attended River Hill High School, has already sold her plein-air paintings, so she will contribute three new paintings that she did about a week before the flood.

One of the paintings was done under the railroad bridge over Main Street, a second was done of the stream behind the welcome center, and a third was painted from atop the hill where St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church is located. All of them are oil on panel.

Menke, 28, had been a regular exhibitor at the Still Life Gallery on Main Street and will also donate 100 percent of her proceeds.

"I want to give back because Ellicott City has given me so much," she said. "The business owners have such great hearts and a love for the arts.

"I hope people don't hold back, and that they buy these paintings of Ellicott City when it was still beautiful — which it, hopefully, will be again," Menke said.

If you go

An exhibit and sale of art from the Paint It Ellicott City 2016 event in July will continue through Sept. 30 at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Information: or 410-313-2787.

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