Laddie Waters, an artist who saw and recorded Baltimore in rich colors, died of COVID-19 complications Nov. 14 at Union Memorial Hospital. He lived in Southwest Baltimore’s SoWeBo community and was 89.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised near Dupont Circle, John Paul Waters Jr., known as Laddie, was the son of John Paul Waters Sr., a Swift & Co. butcher, and Lillian Luella Sheats, a homemaker.
Family members said he recalled the Washington of his childhood as a collection of families from all over the country converging on the capital during World War II. He completed his first oil painting of a couple on a bench in Rock Creek Park while he was in elementary school. His ability came as a surprise to his teachers.
When Mr. Waters was 11 years old, his parents divorced and his mother moved him and his brother to Baltimore.
They lived near the old Baltimore Stadium where he sold baseball programs.
He was a 1954 graduate of Baltimore City College and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and studied under Jacques Maroger and his apprentice, Ann Schuler.
Mr. Waters earned a fine arts degree and served with the Maryland National Guard for two years.
He then continued his studies with Ms. Schuler and her husband, sculptor Hans Schuler, at their East Lafayette Avenue school of art.
“Laddie had nothing but praise for Ann, Hans, and the school, and credits them for nurturing his particular style of painting,” said his wife, Elizabeth “Betsey” O’Connor Waters.
He met her in 1978 at one of Mr. Waters’ art shows.
He was then 46 years old. A mutual friend introduced them. Mr. Waters confided to this friend that he was going to ask Betsey out and the friend said she would never accept. Since the friend had notoriously bad intuition, Mr. Waters knew he had a chance.
The couple began dating after their initial meeting. Their first date was at a Fells Point pub.
His future wife lived in the Hollins Market neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore and he bought a house nearby.
The newlyweds made their home down the street from the market and directly next to the Carlton Street arabber stable. The couple raised their two daughters in the neighborhood.
In a 1989 Evening Sun article, Mr. Waters said he taught art briefly at Pimlico Junior High School.
“I was fired immediately,” he said in the story.
Mr. Waters went on to describe himself as “a painter of landscapes and figures.”
“Always his painting is somewhat impressionistic, and occasionally it has symbolic overtones,” he said of his work. “However the symbolism is never macabre. He sees a world that is beautiful, often romantic.”
Mr. Waters described his world: “I’ve been painting in ever-widening circles. But I’ve only made it about 200 feet.”
The 1989 article described his voice as having smoky traces of Southern Maryland in it. His father’s family were tobacco farmers.
Mr. Waters painted and was a stay-at-home father. He set up his studio on the third floor of their home and employed the Flemish technique of oil painting he learned from Mr. Maroger at MICA.
His wife said the preparation involved cooking linseed oil, lead carbonate and mastic varnish on the kitchen stovetop.
He would then mix dry pigment to achieve the bright translucent colors he was known for.
“After setting the kitchen on fire [at least] two times, his wife made him move the process to a hot plate in the backyard,” his wife said. Eventually, the couple purchased a commercial property on West Baltimore Street, which he used as a studio and gallery space, Up the Stairs.
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Mr. Waters was a patron and supporter of other Baltimore artists and had an extensive collection of their works.
“Not only did he invite artists to exhibit in his studio, he ran the Barker Gallery at Emmanuel Episcopal Church for many years and was a member of the Art Gallery of Fells Point,” his wife said. Mr. Waters was a member of Sowebo Arts and had been an active member of the Charcoal Club since 1967.
“So many people from my generation always complained that they couldn’t afford original artwork,” his wife said. “I learned that even with my modest budget, how important it was to support artists and how much enjoyment you receive by seeing original works in your living space”.
He also encouraged his children to pursue art. They attended Baltimore School for the Arts and became artists. He participated in family group shows with his daughters and later son-in-law, who is an illustrator.
“He was a beloved SoWeBo artist,” said his daughter Emily Waters. “His oil paintings of Baltimore City life frequently depicted arabbers and the SoWeBo neighborhood, where he was a resident for 42 years. Laddie loved this neighborhood, his house and its proximity to the stables. He refers to his time here as the best time of his life.”
His wife said: “He loved this town with all the grime and grit. He saw Baltimore through fantastical eyes.”
Survivors include his wife of 39 years Elizabeth Waters, a retired supervisor at the University of Maryland cytogenetics clinical lab; two daughters, Kathryn Waters of Baltimore and Emily Waters of Los Angeles; and a sister-in-law, Sandra Waters of Baltimore. His brother, Everett “Kent” Waters, died in 2011.