Mid-Shore Arts: Bennett Bean on Being Careful

While his first major piece of art sold to the Whitney Museum in 1967, it could be said that Bennett Bean’s art career actually started in 1981.

That was the year Bennett permanently ended teaching at Wagner College in New York and left the city for the New Jersey countryside and focus exclusively on his artwork.

That was a good bet on his part. Since that moment in time, he now has his artwork in the permanent collection of such esteemed museums as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Southern California.

But as Bennett explains in his interview with the Spy at the Academy Art Museum from last week, it was due to this newly found freedom, which he calls a “romantic involvement,” that has produced the extraordinary pottery and colors now on display in a major exhibition or his work entitled Be Careful What You Fall in Love With this fall at the AAM.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum and “Bennett Bean: Be Careful What You Fall in Love With” please go here.

CFF Preview: Kurt Kolaja’s Wild Ponies of Chincoteague

As with the case with most documentarians, who tend to need very long production times to make their films, the Spy had not heard from Kurt Kolaja for a few years. The last time was when we interviewed Kurt was in connection with the hugely successful and charming documentary on the Kent County Marching Band in 2011.

Audiences found that film to be extraordinary in sharing the humor and the fun that goes hand in hand with local community marching bands, but also the very real, and sometimes complex, personalities of the band members themselves. Six years later, Kurt has used those same skills to capture another part of Eastern Shore culture with his new film entitled the Wild Ponies of Chincoteague. While the theme of this new production is certainly putting a well-deserved spotlight on the extraordinary habitat of these wild horses, it also drills down into the community itself and those unique individuals that play a critical role in a historical legacy that is found on the lower Eastern shore.

The Spy caught up with Kurt at the Bullitt House in Easton last week to talk about the film which will be premiering at the Chesapeake film Festival in late October.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here 

Jazz Review: The 2017 Monty Alexander Festival by John Malin

Labor Day weekend in Easton has become established over the last eight years as a great destination for Jazz lovers as the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival (MAJF) has grown in stature and popularity.

Friday, September 1st, marked the start of this year’s festival in the Avalon Theatre with a magnificent performance from Bria Skonberg and her band. Bria drifted onto the stage trumpet in hand, saluted the audience and blew up a storm with a version of Louis Armstrong’s “Swing That Music.” Supported by the “holy trinity” of piano, bass and drums, Bria played a range of jazz styles from traditional New Orleans through to modern Jazz and Blues, playing numbers from Dizzy Gillespie, Django Reinhardt and Hoagy Carmichael before moving on to Nat King Cole’s “Revenge” and the beautiful French song “I Am Alone Tonight” by Lucienne Delyle. Listening to Bria singing in perfect French I imagined a young Brigitte Bardot with a voice like a honey glazed stiletto purring and cutting through lyrics with a surgeon’s precision. The support piano work of Matisse Picard was both original and technically outstanding, providing a perfect complement to Skonberg’s trumpet.

The second set included some of her own original work including a haunting swing number “Wear And Tear” featuring a beautiful muted trumpet solo. The set concluded with a moving delta blues style vocal “I Love You But I Can’t Have You” with Bria singing in a soulful rich voice and playing ever ascending horn riffs in a question and answer style vocal and instrumental. The Avalon audience loved it. Bria Skonberg was fabulous…watch this space Jazz fans.

Saturday’s events began with a wall of sound from the U.S. Navy Band Commodores, led by Bill Mulligan. We usually listen to amplified individual instruments but to hear an 18-piece band in a small theater is an unforgettable experience. The band played an eclectic range of jazz classics with instrumental solos from most all of the players and a selection of songs from Ella Fitzgerald, celebrating the centenary of her birth. Kristine Hsia, the vocalist, finished with an original and beautiful arrangement of “Georgia On My Mind.” Bill Mulligan, bandleader and a virtuoso sax player, produced a fabulous big band sound with these world-class musicians and the Avalon is still shaking.

Brunch at the Tidewater Inn with the Washington D.C.-based Conservatory Classic Jazz Band has become a tradition of the festival and the seven-piece band played their repertoire of New Orleans, Chicago, and small group swing as customers feasted on Bloody Marys and crab cakes.

Jazz trumpeter Sean Jones, with drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Luques Curtiss, and pianist Orrin Evans

Sean Jones, the young and very talented former lead trumpet player with Wynton Marsalis, kicked off Saturday afternoon in a packed Avalon Theater with Obed Calvaire on drums, Luques Curtiss on bass, and Orrin Evans on piano. Starting with a tribute to Ella with “Come Fly With Me” and moving to “Two Or Three,” a slow haunting trumpet and piano arrangement, the quartet then played a selection of classic and original numbers that demonstrated not only their technical excellence, but their ability to create an atmosphere of cool, smooth jazz that seemed like we were all sitting in a small, intimate, dark and smoke-filled club. The original snow scene inspired by “Gretchen” raised emotions of Christmas carols and “Nomo” showed the fabulous drumming skills of Obed Calvaire. The finale, an emotional trumpet solo by the gentle giant Jones playing an arrangement of “Danny Boy,” had not a dry eye in the house and received a standing ovation.

Grammy-award nominee René Marie made her second appearance at the MAJF to lead the Saturday evening show with her very

Jazz vocalist René Marie (left), with pianist John Chin and vocalist Dee Daniels

creative and original songs that are intensely personal and probe the most elated and depressed emotions of human existence. With pianist John Chin, drummer Quentin Baxter and bassist Elias Bailey, René roamed through a selection of her own material like “If You Were Mine” and classics like Arty Shaw’s “Moonray.” At times René proudly stood at side stage watching her band deliver fabulous solos urging them on to even greater things. John Chin was just magical as he stared upwards, trance-like, playing absolutely inspired piano. The second set had a surprise appearance by Dee Daniels, another favorite of the MAJF audiences. Dee, with her four octave vocal range, and René sang an amazing duet arrangement of “What A Difference A Day Makes” with the two great voices making exquisite harmonies. A version of Nina Simone’s “Oh Nina” finished the concert with John Chin again showing his tremendous musical influence to René Marie’s most original style of music.

Monty Alexander headlined the final concert of the Festival on Sunday. The concert was dedicated to the memory of Beth Schucker, one of the original supporters of the MAJF, a lifelong Jazz fan and a dear friend to so many Eastern Shore folks. Monty, with his regular bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Jason Brown, struck a very melodious but spiritual theme with classics like “I Have A Friend In Jesus” and “The River.” Monty shared some of his most challenging life experiences, including his battle with cancer, that inspired his composition “Renewal,” featuring his unique piano string plucking technique as an introduction to his inimitable keyboard skills. The music flowed seamlessly from Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and Nat King Cole with some wonderful solo interludes, including one where Monty walked off stage for several minutes leaving Hassan Shakur playing a most creative selection of tunes including “The Pink Panther,” using his amazing multiple string chord strumming techniques.

Nat King Cole was born again as Allan Harris (Tony Bennett’s favorite singer) joined the ensemble to sing the Presley song “I Believe.” Harris has a deep rich and resonant baritone voice and when you close your eyes Nat King Cole is in the room. Dee Daniels joined the group to sing “Someday We Will All Be Free.” The mood changed with a fast rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” with Monty confirming his dominance as one of the pianos greatest virtuosos. The set ended community singing style with Monty in cowboy gear playing a jazz/calypso version of “Home On The Range” to a standing ovation which drew an encore with Daniels and Harris singing the Duke Ellington classic “Come Sunday.” A wonderful show and a marvelous memorial tribute to Beth Schucker.

The MAJF has evolved over the last eight years into a very classy small town Jazz Festival and probably the best in the USA. It is classy without being pretentious or exclusive and is attracting a diversity of audiences. The caliber of the performers is world class and with such great young and creative performers like Bria Skonberg and John Chin the future for Jazz looks very rosy.

Mid-Shore Arts: Carla Massoni on Fragmentation and New Beginnings

The Massoni Gallery in Chestertown has always had a tradition of connecting contemporary art to contemporary issues. From climate change to race relations, the curatorial eye of owner Carla Massoni has been exceedingly successful in allowing her artists and their work help educate and encourage positive action to cure some of society’s most pressing problems.

That sense of mission was thrown into doubt as the political repercussions of the 2016 presidential election started having its impact on American life. The feeling of groundlessness, or to use Massoni’s word, “fragmentation,” has caused many artists to push through this challenging time and find new ways to use their art to heal, recover, or just make sense of this new normal reality.

Eight of those artists are now on display at the Massoni Gallery for a few more weeks, and the Spy caught up with Carla for a short introduction this remarkably uplifting body of work.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information on the Massoni Gallery and “Frag-men-ta-tion: please go here

The Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra Turns Twenty with Julien Benichou and Jeffrey Parker

One way to appreciate how remarkable it is that the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra will be twenty years old this season is to translate that achievement into dog years. For every year a large, well financed, metropolitan orchestra thrives in places like Washington and Baltimore, one might add seven years to any small regional symphony orchestra who survives without the large audiences and donors that major cities provide their cultural institutions.

That 1:7 factor is useful in bringing into focus the stunning accomplishment the MSO will be celebrating the year. Despite its relatively small market niche in communities like Easton, Ocean Pines, or Annapolis, the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra has consistently beaten the odds. Year after year, the MSO has not only finished every season successfully paying their musicians, the first test of sustainability, but gained more and more grateful patrons at the same time.

The secrets to the remarkable outcome can be found in the exceptional quality of programming offered by its brilliant music director, Julien Benichou, now completing ten years at the helm, and the passion and dedication of its board members, like the Symphony’s  current president, Jeffrey Parker. But this remarkable track record can also be attributed to the dedication of literally hundreds season subscribers on the Shore.

The Spy sat down with Julien and Jeffrey last week at Bullitt House to talk about the MSO’s anniversary plans and a sneak preview of what the season’s opening concert will include as the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra takes to the stage at the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College on September 28th.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the The Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra’s 2oth season please go here


Mid-Shore Arts: Famed McMartin Woodcuts at Trippe-Hilderbrandt Gallery

This September, Trippe-Hilderbrandt Gallery in Easton will be presenting a very special exhibit of the woodcuts of Philip McMartin. McMartin’s son, Jim, is well known in the area as an exceptional designer and creator of benchcrafted artisan furniture and co-owner of McMartin and Beggins in Wittman, Md.

Philip McMartin was born and raised in Plattsburgh, New York. Moving to Vermont in his early twenties, his first job was as a reporter for the St. Johnsbury daily newspaper. His early reporting career gave him experience in both photography and writing, two skills he would use throughout his life.

The series of woodcuts were done over an approximately five year period. It’s likely that the experience gained working with wood in the course of repairing and restoring his boats influenced his interest in choosing wood as a medium for his art. He produced a total of about 20 woodcuts over the period beginning in 1968.

In retrospect, he was a completely self taught man in virtually all of the endeavors of his life. Included in that was his art. A very independent and solitary man by nature, he taught himself the art of the woodcut having no formal training. His chosen subject matter was very close to his heart. The romance he felt for the water is certainly expressed in his woodcuts. Add to that the admiration and respect he felt for people who make a living using their hands, their wits and wisdom, in particular those among us who wrest a living working on the water.

The exhibit opens on September 1 with a special reception during First Friday’s Gallery Walk. Trippe-Hilderbrandt Gallery is located at 23 N Harrison St. For more information please call 410-310-8727 or visit trippehilderbrandtgallery.com.

Mark the Date: 10th Chesapeake Film Festival to Begin on October 27

The 10th Anniversary Chesapeake Film Festival brings filmmakers and a diverse audience of film enthusiasts to Easton for the region’s only weekend event that features independent films. Some critics call independent films the most important art form of the 21st century. Audiences have the chance to engage in critical discourse about the film, often with the filmmaker present.

The Avalon Theater is the Chesapeake Film Festival headquarters, with satellite venues at the Academy Art Museum, Talbot County Public Library, and Easton & Cambridge Premier Cinemas. Tickets are reasonably priced, $12 per film; $50 for one day; and $85 for an all-access pass. A special opening film and party is $30. For further information about all films, day and all-access passes, special events, and tickets please visit www.chesapeakefilmfestival.com.

Opening night, October 27th, begins at the Troika Gallery with a Greek-themed cocktail party before a short walk to the Avalon Theatre to enjoy the comedy Swing Away. Filmed mostly in Greece, it is about professional golfer Zoe Papadopolus who travels to her grandparent’s village in Greece to escape the harsh spotlight of the women’s professional golf tour. Actor John O’Hurley (remember Seinfeld’s Mr. Peterman?) stars in the movie. An avid golfer himself, upper level Festival sponsors are invited to play golf with O’Hurley at the Talbot County Country Club.

Because environmental concerns are integral to the Eastern Shore across the political spectrum, Saturday, October 28th is a full day of documentaries with climate change as a common theme. A partnership with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy brings substantive expertise to the film discussions. Viewers will see the power of documentary filmmaking in understanding this widely discussed and often contentious topic. Discussion will be interspersed between films moderated by Stuart Clarke, Executive Director, Town Creek Foundation. Experts include Maryland Secretary of the Environment, Benjamin H. Grumbles; Dr. Donald Boesch, Professor of Marine Science and president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, 1990-2017; Dr. William C. “Bill” Boicourt, Professor Emeritus, Horn Point Laboratory, UMECS; and Brian Ambrette, Coastal Resilience Manager at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.

The film sequence begins with National Geographic’s, Before the Flood, produced by Martin Scorsese, in which actor Leonardo DiCaprio meets with scientists worldwide to discuss the impacts of climate change. From the Ashes presents the voices from all sides of the debate about the coal industry as alternative energy gains steam. The coal industry provides tens of thousands of jobs to America’s blue-collar backbone. Regrettably, it is also the single largest source of the carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global warming, and public health officials warn of the myriad risks of mining and burning coal.

High Tide in Dorchester, written and narrated by Tom Horton, directed by Dave Harp, and produced by Sandy Cannon-Brown addresses the lack of adequate planning needed to meet the imminent challenges of living on the edges of a rising tide. Two shorts, The Ballad of Holland Island House produced by Lynn Tomlinson and The Waterman produced by Jess Jacklin, are touchingly intimate portrayals of our local legacy.

On Sunday, October 29th at the Art Academy Museum, the Festival will screen AlphaGo about an artificial intelligence; hosts a student film showcase featuring young filmmakers from Easton High School who are learning filmmaking under the guidance of instructor Garnette Hines. Hines will join Lori Snyder, Executive Director of Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS), and filmmakers to discuss student engagement in this art form. The Festival closes with William Wyler: The Films & The Music, presented by Dr. Rachel Franklin. After the last film, an awards ceremony and cocktail party will close the Festival.

The Chesapeake Film Festival welcomes public support with sponsorships and program advertisements.

The American Journey of Artist Hai-Ou Hou

The journey of an artist is sometimes just as important as the artist’s work itself. Background and early influences are essential in understanding the motivation and the vision behind their paintings or sculpture.

And that is certainly the case with Mid-Shore artist Hai-Ou Hou. Born in Beijing, and trained early in a Communist Russia inspired art curriculum, Hai-Ou nonetheless felt the need to move out of that very restrictive approach to painting and eventually left China for the United States twenty years ago.

While that immigration may have been critical for Hai-Ou’s long term creativity, the first ten years in this country were not easy ones. Her primary focus during that time was to “survive” but working two jobs in places like Seattle, Allentown, Pennsylvania and also heading up to Alaska to work on a summer fishing crew.

All of this willpower allowed her to start a small art gallery in downtown Baltimore where she would also establish herself as a meritorious portrait painter that came with top dollar commissions, allowing her time and freedom to explore her love of landscape painting and experiment in abstract work.

But it was only after she participated in Plein Air Easton six years ago that she realizes that the Eastern Shore was the perfect place for her to work, teach classes at her large studio in Stevensville, and thoroughly engage in the local art community.

When the Spy stopped by for an interview with Hai-Ou last week, it was a bit surprising to see that her greatest passion these days in her artwork is found in the American West. Over several years, she has made several trips to Colorado, Utah and New Mexico trying to capture the complicated world of light and shadow that is only found in the majestic landscapes surrounding the American Rockies.

Some of that remarkable work can now be found at South Street Art Gallery in Easton starting on Friday which gave us the occasion to drop by and talk to Hai-Ou about her American experience.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Hai-Ou Hou and South Street Art Gallery please go here


What a Tease: The 2017 Chesapeake Film Festival Trailer Released

One of the most fun parts of any film festival is the tradition of creating a unique trailer to promote it.  The Chesapeake Film Festival has been doing this for years – ten years to be exact – and for 2017 asked independent film producer and current volunteer marketing director for the CFF, Kindall Rende, to give it a go.

The Spy obtained her final version and thought our readers would enjoy seeing it as the Mid-Shore prepares for the popular film program to returns from October 27th to the 29th.

For more information about the 2017 Chesapeake Film Festival please go here

Mid-Shore Arts: Using the Arts to Fight Human Trafficking

To bring the issue of human trafficking a little bit closer to home, the State of Maryland is the tenth highest in the country in the number who fall victim to this 21st-century form of human slavery.

In the latest data from 2014, Maryland documented almost 400 cases of trafficking survivors that year, including 128 children, that were enslaved as sex workers.

It is this kind of statistic or other little-known facts like the 10,000 trafficked girls and women that were recently imported for the last Super Bowl game, or that trafficking is a $32 billion business, that brings out an almost instantaneous response to take personal action against this horror.

That’s what happened to Kay Chernush, the Washington D.C. based award-winning photographer, who found herself on assignment for the U.S. State Department to document the victims some years ago and felt compelled to find some way to keep the story of their plight alive. Her solution was to create a traveling art exhibition entitled Artworks for Freedom.

And that’s what happened to eight Mid-Shore artists (Maureen S. Farrell, Carol Gordean, Heather Harvey, Theresa McFadden, Carol Minnarick, Mary Ann Schindler, Sue Stockman, and Amare Selfu Worku) who agreed to join Chernush by contributing their work to Artworks for Freedom/Easton, a forerunner event for a much larger celebration ending in Washington, D.C. later this year.

The multimedia exhibit that will be using their work, alongside national artists, to inform, educate and transform public perceptions about the rapidly growing crime of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

The Spy sat down with Mary Ann Schindler (co-chair along with Carol Gordean) and Sue Stockman, two of the artists whose work will be shown at the Waterfowl Building starting next Friday, to talk about this human tragedy and how art can be powerfully used to convey a message more powerfully than any other medium.

The exhibit will run from September 8 through October 1, 2017, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (closed Mondays) in the Waterfowl Building in Easton, which will serve as headquarters for the event. For more information please go here