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Ruth Starr Rose: Spirituality on the Eastern Shore

As part of the Spy special coverage of the art exhibition Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World, we continue with a discussion of spirituality on the Eastern Shore and a primary theme of her work.

Ruth Starr Rose not only documented the spirituality of her subjects through her artwork but was an active member of the St Stephens AME Church in Unionville herself after moving to Hope House. And it was through this church connection that Rose was befriended by Unionville and Copperville residents and who eventually became subjects of her art.

Over the last six months, the Spy interviewed a few current and former Unionville residents to understand the importance of spirituality in these small communities and its role in the daily life of African-Americans on the Eastern Shore.

This video is approximately three minutes in length

Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World
April 30 to June 16
The Waterfowl Building
40 South Harrison Street
Easton, Maryland


Ruth Starr Rose: The Importance of Unionville

As part of the Spy special coverage of the art exhibition Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World,  we begin with a discussion of Unionville, Maryland, the source of her work and one of the great historic communities on the Eastern Shore.

Founded by eighteen African-Americans after returning to Talbot County at the end of the Civil War in 1865, Unionville still remains today an exceptional close-knit community that inspired Rose both spiritually and artistically while she raised her family at Hope House.

Over the last six months, the Spy interviewed a few current and former Unionville residents to understand the specialness of this small town, and its sister town, Copperville, to capture this powerful sense of community and pride that Rose depicted in her work.

This video is approximately three minutes in length

Editorial: The Importance of Ruth Starr Rose

Some thirty-five years ago, the stepson of a deceased local artist stepped into the Chestertown studio of art conservationist Ken Milton with the idea that Ken may have some interest in his mother’s work. Ken agreed to look at the art, and a few weeks later, Ken and Dick Rose met at Rose’s Colchester home to look at Ruth Starr Rose’s portfolio.

Remarkably, the artwork was not protected inside steel cabinets, or even carefully stored in an attic, but instead on Rose’s back porch. It was quite apparent that the paintings had been exposed to the elements for many years, but as Ken began pulling the art into the daylight, it didn’t take him long to realize he had come across something quite amazing.

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Ruth Starr Rose

One by one, images of beautifully dressed children, handsome men in suits, pretty women in dresses, all African-Americans, started to emerge while Dick Rose slowly recalled his mother’s love for her neighbors in Unionville, who had become Ruth Starr Rose’s subjects for most of her career.

Over the next three decades, Milton would painstakingly repair and restore a significant number of her work, but it wasn’t until art historian Barbara Paca noticed one of them in his studio a few years ago that a unique partnership formed to find and protect Ruth Starr Rose’s work and the legacy of the families of Unionville and Copperville.

The cumulative effect of that hard work has finally emerged, and starting Friday, through the generosity and vision of the Dock Street Foundation, it will be on display at the Waterfowl Building for the next seven weeks. It might be the most important art exhibition ever to be shown on the Eastern Shore.

That may be in part due to Ruth Starr Rose’s skill as an artist. Trained at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the early 20th century, Rose quickly adopted a form of portraiture that demonstrated superior ability. But to place emphasis exclusively on the artist’s mastery would tragically misunderstand why Ruth Starr Rose’s art is so relevant. As competent an artist as she was, it was her subject matter that makes this exhibition the powerhouse that it is.

When she moved to Talbot County after her marriage, Rose rejected the temptation to continue her artwork with drawings of the Chesapeake Bay landscape or waterfowl in flight, and instead chose to concentrate on human portraits. But rather than work on traditional subjects of the times, like wealthy estate owners and their children, Rose instead was drawn into the community and its church that lay just outside her door.

And it is this cumulative impact of art, community, and spirituality that Rose brought to her portraits of African-Americans that makes this so invaluable to the Eastern Shore and its history. At a time when racial tensions still remain high, Rose’s work brings into focus a different kind of world of beauty, pride, and humanity.

From documenting families to finding visual imagery for traditional spirituals, Rose depicted the quiet dignity and historical relevance of Unionville and its residents in ways rarely seen. It was through this artist’s eye that one is reminded of the real Eastern Shore, and its African-American communities of strong families, local heroes, and breathtaking history.

Over the next few days, the Spy will be sharing some of that history with its readers to entice many on the Shore to make the trip to Easton to see Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World. This once in a lifetime event not only brings to life a part of the Eastern Shore too often ignored or misunderstood. but it will remind us again of what a special place it truly is.

Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World
April 30 to June 16
The Waterfowl Building
40 South Harrison Street
Easton, Maryland

Out and About (Sort of): Musing about the Oxford Mews By Howard Freedlander

After reading recently that the Oxford Town Commission agreed to buy the historic Mews property on South Morris Street, I found myself harking back to 1976-1977 when a gregarious shop owner and his Baltimore television-celebrity wife operated an unusual store.

The Oxford Mews Bike Boutique included a Schwinn bicycle shop and an art gallery offering general merchandise and gourmet food, including McCormick spices and meats to fill boaters’ galleys. What really differentiated the store was Ed Vinnicombe, a former high-performing executive at McCormick & Co. with a personality that almost compelled you to buy something.

Frankly, I don’t recall his wife, Sylvia Scott, a host for 17 years of a popular afternoon show, “The Woman’s Angle,” on Baltimore’s WMAR-TV. I suspect she was content allowing her outgoing husband to run the shop. She bought the merchandise, from metal polish to olives soaked in vermouth.

In the early days of TV in Baltimore, Sylvia Scott, incredibly prepared as she was beautifully dressed, with well-coiffed hair, was a major presence, with a sizable following.

In her obituary in The Baltimore Sun, Richard Sher, a longtime WJZ-TV personality, said, ‘”In her day, she was Miss Television in Baltimore. She was the definition of the local TV superstar…she always had great taste…was meticulous about everything she did…took care to find the right foods, the right guests, the right word…she brought class to TV back then.”

When we first moved to Talbot County in 1976, we rented a house on Pleasant Street in Oxford. The walk to Oxford Mews, often with my then three-year-old daughter in tow, was a short one. Of course, any stroll in this beautiful village was long on ambiance and short on distance. It was a village beyond compare.

Though we could not afford the enticing gourmet food, including the Omaha Steaks that Mr. Vinnicombe liked to show off (and sell), we couldn’t resist buying a bike. As I recall, Ed Vinncombe offered us a discount. We were most appreciative. Money was tight for us. He seemed to know that.

My guess is that he and his wife were interested more, at least initially, in keeping busy and enjoying interaction with customers than they were in making money. They ran a class retail outlet. They probably did well.

When I recently asked my now 43-year-old daughter if she remembered the eclectic bike shop, she said she didn’t. Instead, she fondly remembered an ice cream shop adjacent to the Mews. No surprise. She wouldn’t have enjoyed Mr. Vinnicombe’s banter and big personality as much as I did.

During his 30 years at McCormick & Co, a Baltimore-based a purveyor of spices throughout the country, Ed Vinnicombe ran the company’s bulk and institutional division for 19 years, helping to place McCormick products in hotels, restaurants and clubs across the country. This division became a multimillion-dollar operation.

According to Mr. Vinnicombe’s obituary in The Baltimore Sun, the bulk and institutional division grew to two divisions, industrial flavor and food service, and contributed mightily to McCormick’s profits and growth.

Mr. Vinnicombe died in 1997. Sylvia Scott died in 2005.

As the Oxford Town Commission decides the future use of the Oxford Mews, I always will recall when two individuals with amazing resumes and public personas ran what they modestly called a “general store.” I particularly will remember one of those accomplished people, Ed Vinnicombe, as a charismatic person who loved to sell, whether it was McCormick spices or Schwinn bikes. Being in the store run by a dynamic couple, one with a large personality and the other with exquisite taste, was an unforgettable experience. It was a special place.

I trust that longtime residents of Oxford remember a general store unlike any other. I do, despite my short stay in Oxford.

If Oxford succeeds in seeking a designation of the Oxford Mews in the National Register of Places, perhaps the plaque will contain a footnote to the memory of Sylvia Scott and Ed Vinnicombe. It would be fitting.

Not many places sold bikes, Omaha Steaks and olives soaked in vermouth.

How Photographer Paulette Tavormina Seizes Beauty

In the world of art exhibitions, there is nothing quite like opening a show that is timed perfectly with the publication of a featured article in the New York Times Style section. Typically these moments are reserved for the one percent of artists with very well-established reputations, and even then, luck like this falls on only the very few.

That makes it all the more amazing that Easton’s Academy Art Museum and photographer Paulette Tavormina find themselves in that envied position with the launch of the “Seizing Beauty” exhibit last Friday.

Curator Anke Van Wagenberg and Tavormina are understandably delighted by this kind of special attention to the photographer’s very first museum exhibit.  But after two years of hard work, including the production of a book, they have good reason to feel satisfaction.

And so will the viewers of Seizing Beauty. It is a remarkable moment for photography.

Last Friday morning, the Spy caught up with Paulette about her work and her love of the Old Masters.

This video is approximately two minutes in length

The exhibition will be on display through July 10, 2016 at the Academy Art Museum. Curator-Led Tours will be held on Wednesday, May 4 at 12 noon and Wednesday, June 15 at 12 noon. For further information visit or call 410-822-2787.

In Praise of Dandelions by George Merrill

Driving through Easton recently, I saw an elderly man walking along the sidewalk. He went at a brisk pace, as if in a hurry to get somewhere. The man was bent over and leaning forward, perhaps from age, but also suggesting that he was in a hurry. In one hand, he held bunch of dandelions like a bouquet. It seemed odd since most adults regard dandelions as a pesky weed that defiles homeowners’ manicured lawns.

Children love dandelions. They are lured by the dandelion’s vibrant yellow, and will often pick them and proudly present them to parents. In fact it’s only the dandelion that children can freely pick without being yelled at by neighbors who say, “Keep your kid out of my yard.”

The persistent dandelion is a symbol of nature’s abundance, free for all to take. This is not the case with roses and orchids. People are more territorial about such flowers. Aficionados coddle them shamelessly.

Familiarity breeds contempt especially where the dandelion is concerned. This is unfortunate. Dandelions are so ubiquitous in the spring landscape that except for fastidious lawn keepers, dandelions go largely unnoticed. In fact they are survivors, with roots in history going as far back as ancient Egypt.

Dandelions are thought to have come over to America on the Mayflower. There are Americans, like The Colonial Dames, who cherish a heritage dating back to the time of British America. The distinction of being from old families is coveted, and carries with it a certain status; the way, in England, bestowing nobility on a family creates an aristocracy. It seems unfair to me that as fellow passengers on the Mayflower, dandelions have garnered little distinction and even contempt compared to their traveling companions, the pilgrims and their ancestors, who enjoy great honor in our American story. Dandelions are popularly reckoned as weeds, not flowers, which, in my opinion, is a put down. No indeed; dandelions have lived an honorable past and have served a noble mission unrecognized by many.

No single passenger of the Mayflower disembarking in America did as much for so many generations as did the dandelion. “In olden times,” writes dandelion lover Anita Sanchez “Dandelions were prescribed for every ailment from warts to the plague. To this day, herbalists hail the dandelion as the perfect plant medicine . . . a gentle diuretic that provides nutrients and helps the digestive system function at peak efficiency.”

I know dandelion wine is popular, especially in the south. Dandelions have the unique distinction of being both the dog that bit you and the fur that heals the bite. Should you get drunk on dandelion wine, you can use other dandelion derivatives to cure the hangover. A friend of mine, a Methodist minister from North Carolina told me that the buzz dandelion wine produces is “fantastic,” and its derivatives for fixing hangovers, “unparalleled.” Since I was an Episcopal priest, he felt he could confide this delicate matter to me more than he could his colleagues who, as a matter of principle, forswore the use of alcohol, officially at least.

For many years I liked walking country roads in the St. Michaels area. One road had been recently tarred, interring everything alive under macadam. I walked for a while and began noticing small, saw-tooth shaped leaves, struggling through the tiniest cracks in the macadam and making it to daylight. In other places I saw the same kind of leaves only this time growing right through what seemed like an impervious black surface. “Dandelions,” writes Ms. Sanchez  “are quite possibly, the most successful plants that exist, masters of survival worldwide.”

The dandelion has two missions in life that I can identify. Dandelions cast auras of grace around unpleasant surroundings, the way kindhearted people do. Dandelions grow heartily on construction sites, and empty lots filled with trash as if the ugliness of our world did not intimidate their mission to bring vibrant color to a drab world. They also give children the delight of blowing on the dandelions’ puffballs and watching as the dandelion’s gossamer seeds parachute away even in barely noticeable wafts of air that will, in some instances, keep the seeds airborne for up to five miles.

Human reproductive activity, while exciting by all reports, is rarely regarded as something aesthetic and except for a very few, it remains a hidden exercise. Not so for the dandelion. The puffball, into which dandelions turn to insure their progeny, is an exquisite sight especially as the sun shines through them in ways that make them glow as if illuminated from within.

Aging can be challenging as the delights of our youth fade, but having seen the dandelions in the old man’s hand, I wondered as aging folk often do, was he reliving again one of the innocent pleasures of his youth, picking dandelions for the sheer joy of it? But why was he hurrying so? To get them into water, of course, as quickly as possible so they wouldn’t whither and they could abide with him for a time.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.


On Mid-Shore’s Frontline With Child Abuse

Last year, there were 67 reported cases of child abuse in Mid-Shore families. That sobering fact makes the acknowledgement of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month something quite tangible for those who live and care about children in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot Counties.

And the only thing that those 67 families have in common is the  Children’s Advocacy Center at Regional Shore Health. The Mid-Shore’s frontline in working with victims with a remarkably comprehensive, multi-disciplinary response to alleged incidences of child sexual and physical abuse.

The Spy recently interviewed Center coordinator Kami Morris and administrator Diane Shaffer about how the Mid-Shore communities are dealing with this form of domestic violence and the services available to them through the CAC.

This video is approximately six minutes in length

For those seeking more information, The CAC can be reached at 410-820-7141 or More information is available at


Wes Lockfaw Brings a Mass of Blue to Easton

Easton’s Wes Lockfaw is a busy guy. The full time music director at Christ Church Episcopal has had a lot on his plate since coming to Easton in 2009. Beyond his day job, he has also started a Choral Scholars, project for high school to collegiate level students, and in 2010 became Easton Choral Arts Society’s fifth director.

And it is in that latter role that the Spy caught up with him at the Bullitt House to talk about the Society’s ambitious plans to bring “Mass in Blue” by composer Will Todd to St. Michaels High School this weekend with soprano Lena Seikaly. 

Wes also spends some time talking about the other program offering that afternoon with the addition of a selection by Moses Hogan. Hogan was one of the most celebrated contemporary directors and arrangers of spirituals of our time.

This video is approximately four minutes in length

Mass in Blue by Will Todd
Saturday, April 23, 2016 • 7:30 PM
Sunday, April 24, 2016 • 4:00 PM
St Michaels High School

Student Admission: $5
General Admission: $20
Admission at Door $25

Out and About (Sort of): Shore Gets Attention in Annapolis By Howard Freedlander

During its recently completed 90-day session, when the Maryland General Assembly considered 2,817 bills and passed 834, the Eastern Shore got some attention, maybe unwanted and unappreciated by some.

Of course, I’m referring to a bill requiring that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) conduct a study to analyze the state’s oyster stocks. Simply, the study is intended to determine how many oysters are there in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and how many can be removed by commercial watermen before the supply is extinguished.

Nothing about oysters is easy or harmonious in the hallowed halls of Annapolis. Watermen are suspicious of studies undertaken either by bureaucrats or scientists. They assume that the results will be injurious to their economic health.

They circle their boats to protect an oyster population already decimated by disease, dirty water and over-harvesting.
The current oyster population is one percent of historical levels. The future is grim.

What the watermen really fear is a moratorium. They believe it is inevitable if studies go forward. They want to pursue their profession, unfettered by government regulation and scientific research.

Talbot County watermen won a victory of sorts when they successfully persuaded state officials to seek a delay by the Army Corps of Engineers in an oyster restoration project in the Tred Avon River. I thought this was a ridiculous action to appease the watermen, who questioned the results of a similar project in Harris Creek. Scientists agreed that it was premature to judge the efficacy of the the Harris Creek project, which was completed in mid-September 2015.

Watermen understandably are worried about a diminishing oyster stock. They are not responsible for diseases that have ravaged oysters. They are not responsible for the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. And they are watching the emergence of aquaculture and the increasing public taste for farmed oysters.

As stated in a Baltimore Sun editorial prior to the passage of the oyster study bill, “Still, there is more at stake in this debate than any waterman’s livelihood. Oysters are essential for the health of the Chesapeake’s underwater ecology. As filter feeders, an oyster can cleanse up to 50 gallons of water per day. That was one of the prime arguments for creating oyster sanctuaries in the first place.”

The new study will seek data on oyster reproduction, growth and mortality rates to forecast how many oysters may roam the Bay in future years. This sort of study is not new. Similar analyses were conducted to develop policy on crab harvests, considered important in aiding the growing number of these tasty shellfish.

Watermen have a voice that deserves to be heard in forming policy. They also have a stake in ensuring the future sustainability of the oyster population in the Bay and its tributaries. At some point, they need to lower the noise level and find a solution that protects their livelihood by protecting and enhancing the stocks supply. They also need to understand that the market for farmed oysters is growing. They might need to revise their business model despite their generations-long ties to plying their trade as it’s always been done.

Speaking about a voice in our democratic process, I am proud to say I voted early in our federal and state election, scheduled for April 26. And I was surprised to find a line at the Easton Fire House when I voted Thursday morning, April 14. I’m not sure what the long line signified.

A friend asked me, humorously, whether I was interviewed afterwards in an exit poll you hear about on the major network and cable television stations. I doubt whether the national political pundits are interested in the thoughts of an Easton, Maryland voter.

Though I admittedly enjoy observing the political process, I suspect I join many others who look forward to the end of what seems like an unending presidential primary. Citizens need a break. And so do the candidates.

Please don’t forget to vote.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Breaking Barriers: Meet Benedictine’s Marshawn Cornish at Work at Shore Regional Health

The road toward full employment for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities can be a long and arduous one. Faced with institutional roadblocks, uninformed potential employers, and an unique form of discrimination has made the goal of finding meaningful and long term work for many young people hard to find.

That is starting to change on the Eastern Shore with the help of the Benedictine School in Ridgely. Benedictine, which cares for more than 200 children and adults, has made significant progress in having their students fully integrate into America’s workplaces.

One outstanding example of that effort has been Marshawn Cornish. A native of the Mid-Shore born with intellectual disabilities, Marshawn teamed up with Dale Skinner, Benedictine’s Supported Employment Manager, to break down those barriers of employment last year. Working hand in hand with Regional Shore Health staff, Marshawn started to work at the Easton Hospital’s cafeteria and has very quickly become one of the most popular and dedicated workers.

In his Spy interview, Marshawn and Dale talk about the process of finding the right job with the right kind of employer.  Marshawn also describes his sense of belonging to a special team as well as the special fulfillment he receives in his work.