One-man show features many sides of life

Visitors who stop by Bill Stromberg's one-man art show at Charlestown retirement community this week will find peaceful maritime images, realistic portraits and paintings that recall the American southwest.

Thirteen of Stromberg's works form an exhibit that will run from July 10 to Sept. 16, in the Fireside Dining Room at the retirement community, 719 Maiden Choice Lane.


The show's opening reception is 3 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10.

"He has a very large background studying the figure," said Charlestown resident Jewell Brenneman, a painter and member of the Fireside Art Committee, a group formed in January 2010 that hosts the quarterly art shows in the dining room.


"And that means his portraits, both facial and whole body, are excellent," she said.

Though the committee usually includes work from about a dozen Charlestown residents in its shows, Brenneman said that in hosting a one-man show they wanted to offer "something new and exciting, and totally different."

It will be the fourth show for the group, which borrowed money from the benevolent fund at Charlestown that helps residents who can no longer pay their living expenses to start.

The group came about after Charlestown resident and painter Donald Griswold decided that a vacant wall in the dining area needed adornment.

Because many artists, like Stromberg, choose to sell their work, 15 percent of the proceeds are contributed back to the benevolent fund to help repay that debt, Griswold said.

"We like to involve people, because when you get old, life doesn't stop," said Griswold, who is in his 90s and began painting at 54. "It's a new beginning for a lot of us, to not only use our leisure time but use creative time."

Charlestown residents' paintings often reflect their life experiences and travels through a variety of mediums and styles, he said.

The watercolors and oil paintings that line the walls of Stromberg's Charlestown apartment stay true to that statement.


There is a painting of a church in San Antonio done from photographs from his travels, a whimsical picture of his son-in-law and grandson playing amongst seagulls with a kite on the beach and a realistic still life of his grandson's sneakers hung from a door knob.

Griswold described Stromberg's work as "very colorful" and "expressive."

"It grabs you," he said on the realistic nature of the work. "It's real, and it comes alive."

The youngest of three children born to Edward and Emma Stromberg, an automobile mechanic and homemaker in Irvington, Stromberg, 87, began drawing in parochial school — where he would create posters at the request of the nuns.

He studied business, typing and how to operate bookkeeping machines at Boys Vocational School, briefly working as a welder in a Baltimore ship yard after graduation.

At age 18, he enlisted in the Army and fought in Italy for nine months during World War II. He was sent home after sustaining a shrapnel wound to his leg in combat, earning him a Purple Heart.


"I even did some drawing while I was in the Army," Stromberg said, recalling how he would use Italian charcoal to draw airplanes on the walls of vacant homes that had been abandoned in the war.

He drew Ms. Lace, a cartoon character that appeared in military publications, on the back of his Army jacket — behavior that was against the rules, but for which he was never reprimanded.

During his remaining three years in the Army, his business and typing skills were put to use as he did office work at Fort Meade then worked in a replacement depot inOregon.

When the war ended, he ran bookkeeping machines for five years for Fidelity Trust Co., in Baltimore.

"That's where I met my wife," he said, remembering his wife, Kathryn, who was 17 at the time.

"We just started riding the streetcar together after work," he said.


He said they started dating when she turned 18 and married about a year later in 1948. She died five years ago.

In 1954, the couple moved from Irvington to Arbutus, where they lived for 55 years.

Stromberg has three sons, two daughters and 13 grandchildren.

He left Fidelity and spent five years working as a manager with at the Social Security Administration, before returning to the bank for another 32 years — often working second jobs to help provide for his growing family.

While working at SSA, Stromberg earned a degree in advertising design at the Maryland Institute College of Art — often going to school from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. then working from 4 p.m. until after midnight.

He wanted a career in advertising, but by the time he graduated, he found he could not support his family on the wages offered at advertising firms.


Instead, he continued to pursue art on the side, joining local portrait groups. He recently retired from the Howard County Portrait Group, after 20 years of membership, because he can no longer drive.

He joined the 94th Street Art Gallery, in Ocean City, near where he and his wife kept a second home, and participated in regular art shows at Johns Hopkins University with the Art Guild ofMaryland.

For 20 years, he also chaired the alumnae studio night at MICA.

The school later awarded him an honorary Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Asked what he loves about art, Stromberg, who still paints once a week, said he loves "the creativity of it."

"Every painting, I could talk about," he said, as he stood in front of a self portrait that included his Purple Heart pinned to his lapel and an American flag in the background.


"It's a challenge, and you grow with it," he said. "All of a sudden you get involved in painting, you forget (that) people are there around you, you just forget your troubles.

"Because you're expressing yourself, and you like the attention it gives you," he said. "People like it, and it makes you feel good."