After Paris Comes Easton: Bill Viola at the Academy With Anke Van Wagenberg

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Well before camcorders, flash cards, HD resolution, and a host of other components that make up our digital world these days, New York native Bill Viola decided to become a video artist.

That was in 1973, when video was still mostly used for commercial television and some instructional use. While film had been slowly embraced in contemporary art circles, Viola’s use of video was an extraordinarily rare and rather exotic medium in the 1970s. Equipment was expensive, image quality was inconsistent, and poor resolution analog television displays were the only option for displaying work.

And yet Viola, almost on his own, saw the profound impact video could have with art and began to master electronic, sound, and image technology to highlight fundamental human experiences such as birth, death and aspects of consciousness.

In her interview with the Spy this month, Anke Van Wagenberg talks about Viola’s methods and legacy than can be seen at the Academy Art Museum’s exhibition, “The Dreamers” over the next three months. She also talks about Viola’s growing following, including his very successful show at the Grand Palais museum in Paris earlier this year.

This video is approximately one minute in length

The Disease of Bulbitus by Bobbie Brittingham


Now I lay them down so deep.
Waiting to wake from winter’s sleep.
Bringing forth a dazzling bright sight.
When spring breaks thru the long dark night.

Now you have to laugh at that. Really now. Come on, that is a ridiculous poem.

Yes, I agree. It is bad! But the reality is that planting bulbs in the fall is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do in the garden. The daffodil, tulip, lily, iris, crocus, hyacinth, scilla, allium, cassia, Muscari, are relatively easy to grow. The effort put into the correct planting is tripled when they start to poke thru the ground and the anticipation grows with each day as you watch them stretch their leaves toward the warming sun, enjoying the freedom from the cold. It is almost too late to plant now but as long as the ground is not frozen and you can get a spade in it you can put those little buggers in the ground.

I have been working diligently on the multitude of boxes of bulbs that started arriving in September. Why did I not heed the admonishment of my friends and NOT order so many bulbs? I CAN”T. I have this disease called Bulbitus. It is not my fault. I inherited this awful affliction. There is no cure. I guess I wouldn’t take a cure even if there were one. To me bulbs are really wonderful. Looking the catalogues and dreaming how beautiful they would look growing in my garden. When I come across a new one, it casts this mesmerizing spell over me, and I have to give in this addiction. Maybe I will order just a few. OK! That will hold me. Maybe a few more of the same variety or even a different one, because you should have more than a few to make a statement, and really, that is what I want anyway. So I add a few more to the order. Then I turn the page, and the same thing happens. I can’t get away from it. So I give into this stronghold the colorful bulb catalogue pages have on me. OK next…

Remember this started in September or really in March and April. The devious bulb company knows that as the spring garden starts to bloom, it is the best time to start grooming a gardener with this Bulbitus condition. They know we see where there is an empty space that should have a different color or size bloom to make the garden look like their pictures. NOT !!!! …. Never has any garden of mine looked like the pictures, and most likely never will. But these bulb companies keep sending the catalogue just to feed the addiction.

Now nearly December or rather it is December, and I have just planted the last of my bulbs. You must understand too that I have had this disease for a long time, and since I have not the slightest idea how to cure myself ( unless the bank forecloses ) the UPS , Airborne, and USPS, keep bring me these heavy boxes that I know can’t be for me because I already have several hundred or very possibly thousands . Must be a mistake. But a lovely mistake anyway … I will accept it.

Besides planting bulbs in the garden, I have planted most of the large pots that had annuals in them. You cab layer different bulbs in one pot. Start with the largest and latest blooming on the first layer about 6/8 inches deep and cover with soil and then build up another layer of different bulbs. Cover up each layer with soil. The earliest and smallest should be the last layer. Covering all the layers with soil, a good drink, and a little mulch or leaves will keep this pot in good condition. Leave it outside for the winter with a little protection. And then as the bulbs start to emerge in the early spring, bring the pot into a prominent place where you can watch them bloom their heads off. It is a little gem of a garden just for your enjoyment.

You can also force some bulbs to bloom earlier than normal by doing the same method and bring them into the garage or another like place as soon as they start to show a little green thru the soil. Keep cool and moist, but not freezing for several days to an about a week, then move the pot inside to a sunny location and have the fun of beating mother nature to the punch.
The gorgeous amaryllis is another great bulb to grow and takes near to nothing as far as work. The only thing is not to plant it too deep and not to over water it. They can rot easily with too much water. After it blooms cut the stalk off and treat it like any other house plant. In the late spring, you can put it outside, water and fertilize as a good gardener should. Then in the fall cut the leaves off, let it dry out in a cool dark location for a resting period of six to eight weeks or more if you forget where it is, as I always do. Then start to water a little leaving in a cool place with a little more light. When green shows again take inside, and it will bloom all over again.

The amaryllis will be ok in the same pot for about two years but will outgrow it by a third. It could even have a few off spring attached ( as they usually do ) to the mother plant. These can be removed and planted the same as the parent plant. It will take a year or two for these young ones to bloom, but they will. THEN if you keep this up you too will have more than you know what to do with. I have found a good solution to this dilemma. They will do very well in a pot or in the ground for a striking summer bloom. Plant as you would any other summer bulb. Grow in a large pot with other big leave or blooming plants, and you will have an exotic look for the summer pots.

If there is a remedy, therapy or treatment for Bulblitus that is available please don’t tell me. I completely enjoy this affliction, and it has such beautiful consequence.

Queen Anne’s YMCA Project Dead… Again


Newly elected Queen Anne’s county commissioners quashed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the county and YMCA of the Chesapeake during their first meeting as a new commission. The meeting was held Monday, December 9.

A relationship between YMCA and Queen Anne’s County has been sought for years, the MOU being the last version of an ongoing attempt to have a Y in Queen Anne’s County.

The commissioners stated that they were not against the YMCA per se, and that nullifying the MOU was “not an attack on the YMCA,” but that underwriting the enterprise did not best serve their tax-paying constituents. Instead, they proposed a sub-committee to approach the YMCA of the Chesapeake to seek a new arrangement.

The county has an eight million dollar surplus after several years of deficit. As late as May, 2014, the county had restored $4M in funding for the project in fiscal year 2015. A month earlier, in April, 2015, the funding had been removed from the budget by the commission.

Several residents stated the commonly held position that a YMCA is a crucial component to community health and offered positive impacts for economic development for the region.

A December 6, 2013 QA County website description of the MOU included this agreement description:

“According to the MOU, the county commits to expend up to $8 million for design and construction of the facility and the YMCA agrees to reimburse the county $4 million within seven years. The county, with input from the YMCA, will oversee design and construction of the facility, but once completed the YMCA will be solely responsible for maintenance and repairs of the facility. The YMCA will staff, manage and operate the facility. Although the county will own the building, the MOU establishes the agreement that the county will lease the facility to the YMCA for a period of 99 years at a cost of $1 per year.”

The following videos show QAC residents making their case for a continued effort to make the MOU work, along with the commissioner’s debate and subsequent voiding of the MOU while pledging to find an alternative way of bringing a YMCA to the county.

Appearing in this video are commissioners Steve Wilson, Paul Comfort, James Moran, Mark Anderson, and Robert Buckey.

Out and About (sort of) by Howard Freedlander: Change on Harrison Street

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Mason’s Restaurant on Harrison Street in Easton changed ownership last week, according to an article in The Talbot Spy.

For 48 years, the Mason family has owned a restaurant, catering business and retail chocolate counter at 22 South Harrison Street. I rarely dined at Mason’s without seeing and exchanging brief conversation with Matt Mason, who operated the business for about 25 years with his mother, Mary.

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Watercolor by Irma Troost

Matt was always there, barely masking an intense desire to run a tough business. He epitomized the proto-typical restaurant owner whose life seems to revolve around a public eatery.

Nearly 15 years ago, Mason’s changed from a small, cozy lunch area, where you could enjoy a delicious sandwich, talk with your table companion—and still hear what someone in a closely adjacent table was saying. This family-run restaurant then became an upscale operation that set the tone for several other eateries that have claimed part of the culinary market in Easton.

I always thought that the wait staff at Mason’s was top-notch. Turnover seemed minimal.

I often referred friends from out of town to Mason’s, feeling confident they would have a satisfying experience. And, invariably, they did. As competition grew, my referrals became more complicated.

The new owner, Bob Pascal, said in a Star Democrat article that thousands of people have celebrated significant events at Mason’s. And Liz and I are among them; the rehearsal dinner for our youngest daughter Bess and her husband-to-be Eric took place in Mason’s outside area in July 2008. It was a wonderful occasion, thanks to the quality of the food and service.

Many of us will miss Matt and his purposeful direction of a restaurant widely known and liked both in and out of Talbot County. He worked hard and long.

Mason’s survived through two generations. Family businesses are tough to sustain as I have learned. Matt took a risk nearly 15 years ago when he expanded his family restaurant and changed its business model. His customers benefitted. And so did other restaurant entrepreneurs, who saw that Easton could and did support high-quality culinary experiences.

Like Matt Mason, the new owner, Bob Pascal, too believes in running first-class operations. Mason’s will remain a mainstay in Easton. That benefits its longtime and new customers.

We will miss seeing you, Matt.

Spy Reconnaissance: Eastern Shore Food Hub with President Cleo Braver


The idea of a food hub has been an active one for over seven years for Eastern Shore Food Hub’s president Cleo Braver. A center for aggregating locally grown crops from local farms at competitive costs with larger producers in the Mid-Atlantic, it has always been kind of a no-brainer for her with the Delmarva with its abundance of agriculture.

And it has been that kind of long term commitment that continues to motivate Braver in the face of losing a few allies in the November election in her efforts to create a food hub center in Easton and training farm in Kent County. With now over 300 food hubs successfully operating throughout the country, Braver remains optimistic that as more residents of the Mid-Shore hear about the program, it will be embraced as an essential part of the farming community.

In her Spy interview, Cleo talks about the importance of re-creating a regionalization of produce, the general business model of a food hub, the primary elements of the Food Hub’s programs, and her hopes for moving forward with the town of Easton in 2015 to build the Hub’s center.

This video is ten minutes in length

SpyCam Moment: The $1 Million Business of GIS at Washington College

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It is hard to imagine that any department of a higher education institution could actually also be a business, but one doesn’t look much further than Washington College’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program at Washington College to see one in real time.

The GIS program, established in 2003 by John Seidel, the head of WC’s Center for Environment and Society, not only trains students in the technology and application of GIS mapping, it also has fifteen full-time professionals housed in an industrial park a few miles from campus. The net results of this horsepower generates over $1.5 million in gross revenue this past year.

We caught up with Stewart Bruce, GIS Program Coordinator (academic code word for COO) to highlight one example of the power of GIS. In this case, he chose the Maryland Crime Mapping and Analysis Program.  He also highlights what liberal arts students get out of a program like that in real life.  Surprisingly, Stu starts with the year 1782 to provide his answer.

This video is four minutes in length

Mid-Shore Lives: Moorhead Vermilye and Philanthropy


For reasons Moorhead Vermilye can’t truly explain, he became a very active civic leader in Talbot County as a very young man. Named as chair of the Easton Hospital board in his mid-thirties, Moorhead would find himself leading countless community causes, including the United Way and the formation of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation for the next several decades. As a result, the former head of the Talbot Bank has had a first row seat to the growth of philanthropy on the Eastern Shore over the last fifty years.

In the first in a series on Mid-Shore Lives, the Spy recently interviewed Moorhead to talk about philanthropy on the Shore and the genesis behind the founding of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation. He also reminisces about the small town nature of Eastern Shore business life, the growing social needs of the community, and the serious demands for more Mid-Shore private giving in the future.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

Spy Reconnaissance: Chesapeake Center with President Donna Harrison


No Talbot County-based nonprofit institution can have better roots than having the legendary local philanthropist Mrs. Alton Jones as a founding benefactor. Blessed with a extremely keen sense of what a real community truly must have, Mrs. Jones saw the need in the mid 1970s for a special campus for those who had intellectual and development disabilities. And with that one unique contribution, the Chesapeake Center on Dover Street was made into reality.

Carrying forward Mrs. Jones’ commitment these days is Chesapeake Center President and CEO Donna Harrison. Inspired as a college student to enter the relatively new profession of vocational training for those with disabilities, Donna is now closing in on three decades of service and currently as its president and CEO.

The Spy talks to Donna about the challenges and opportunities with running the Chesapeake Center as well as how society in growing more and more sensitive to special needs with those with disabilities.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length

The Chesapeake Center Fact Sheet

Chesapeake Center, Inc. was founded in 1967 by a group of concerned parents, desperate to find meaningful opportunities for their adult children with disabilities. The property at 713 Dover Road was donated by Talbot County philanthropist, Mrs. Alton Jones. Local businesses Willow Construction, Duncan Masonry, Tom’s General Services, H.W. Heinsohn, Inc. and Eastern Shore Hospitality were instrumental in the construction and renovation of the buildings on the Dover Road campus.

Chesapeake Center provides Vocational Training through on the job training so employees with disabilities can earn a paycheck for work performed. Some of the participants that attend daily are transported in vans owned by the Center, traveling from Talbot, Caroline, Queen Anne’s and Dorchester counties. Many vocational consumers live in residences owned and operated by Chesapeake Center. Living with 3 to 8 other adults, Group Home residents learn how to take care of themselves and their house. For those who master household skills and can safely live alone, Chesapeake Center offers drop-in Support Services by trained staff.

As a not for profit agency, Chesapeake Center is reimbursed for many of its community-based services by the Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene’s Developmental Disabilities Administration. Eligibility is determined by DDA by contacting the Resource Coordinator from the County Health Department where the applicant resides.

Just under 200 individuals with various disabilities served daily
74% from Talbot County, 13% from Dorchester County, 11% from Caroline County and 2% from Queen Anne’s County
9 Staffed group home serving 40 adults
100 Full time and 25 Part time employees
6 Managers who average 18 years of dedicated service
21 vehicles used to provide transportation for all consumers daily

Our Board of Directors
Seth Beatty
Marianna Breeding
Deborah A. Collison
Carol Francis
Waller S. Hairston
Oscar J. Inkell
Kathleen A. Kurtz
Joan H. McGarry
Willard C. Parker, II, Esq.
Jason C. Price
J. Andrew Smith
Patricia D. Stein

Out and About (sort of): ESLC Conference and Farms Balancing Act by Howard Freedlander

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An all-day conference organized by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) devoted to the future of the agriculture on the Eastern Shore provided an excellent perspective about an industry critically important economically to the Delmarva peninsula.

A plot-line running throughout the day’s panel discussions was the pervasive tension between farmers and environmental groups. Conference planners hoped to address the often acrimonious debate and encourage a respectful dialogue.

The debate is simply about the health of the Chesapeake Bay. More specifically, are farmers doing enough in their daily operations to minimize damage to the pollution of the Bay?

The message given by farmers and the secretaries of agriculture in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia was more nuanced than cut and dry: farmers, coping with government regulations, are taking actions to protect the Bay while trying to be profitable. Community and environmental groups seem dissatisfied with the progress they are making, according to farmers.

Photos by Edwin Remsberg
Another message underscored the presentations made on Nov. 20, 2014 at the Tidewater Inn in Easton: both the agricultural community and the environmental groups need to talk. Lester Gray, a Perdue Farms executive, said, “We have too much confrontation today. We are responsive to our customers, consumers and communities.” Use of chicken litter currently divides the poultry industry and environmental groups.

At the end of a long day listening to a plethora of experts, the three agriculture secretaries provided an exclamation point to the underlying theme of the superbly well-organized conference: the need for cooperative, rather than confrontational discussion.

Maryland’s Buddy Hance said that the state needs to improve non-pollution and eliminate the “blame game.” He called for publicizing farmers’ best management practices, such as the use of cover crops.

Virginia’s Todd Haymore called for a partnership between the farming community, environmental groups and agri-businesses. He pointed to the creation in Virginia of a strategic economic development plan that included the agricultural industry.

And Delaware’s Ed Kee spoke about developing a dialogue based on trust and trying to solve problems, stressing objective, rather than zealous conversations. He pointed to a new farm and food policy in Delaware, creating a “healthy dialogue” and a road map for cooperation.

The question after any educational, sometimes provocative conference is where do we go from here?

As I listened to agricultural industry representatives, I clearly could hear the frustration with the perception on the part of some environmental groups that farmers are not doing enough and sufficiently speedily to save the Bay, to improve its health, to control pollution.

Responsible environmental groups, frustrated by the agonizingly slow improvement in Bay pollution, blame developers and farmers for failing to use best management practices to control the infusion of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Bay.

ESLC knowingly tackled a sensitive subject.

In his introductory remarks, Rob Etgen, ESLC’s executive director, referred to the proverbial “elephant in the room”—the controversy and animosity often voiced by agricultural and environmental groups.

The conference did not resolve the conflict. That was too much to ask. It did, however, highlight the agriculture industry’s efforts, whether undertaken by a farmer or a major agri-business like Perdue, to be responsive to environmental concerns.

At a time in history when our conversation and disagreements are often characterized by stridency and personal attacks, I hope that the more than 200 attendees at ESLC’s 15th annual conference left feeling a bit more informed—and maybe even willing to work together.

I realize I may be overly optimistic.

Conowingo Dialogue: A County Commissioner Chimes In for the CCC


If one can detect a certain edge to Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian’s voice when describing government and nonprofit organizations efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, it is because he has been watching with mounting frustration the lack of success stories for almost fifty years.

As a waterman, a town manager, and a county government leader, Fithian feels like he is an expert eyewitness to the end of oystering in the Upper Chesapeake, and the extraordinary poor regional response to the Bay’s poor health. He has seen governors and agency task forces come and go with no tangible improvement in controlling sediment coming from the Lower Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam, the leading cause of the death in his mind of family oyster businesses in Rock Hall.

It may be that one of the results of this exasperation was his move to champion the Kent County Commissioners decision last June to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition — with its $25,000 fee — to draw attention to the Susquehanna watershed, and in particular, the role the Conowingo Dam plays in damaging the Bay after major weather storms.

By many accounts, the CCC has been very effective to that end. With now ten county governments signed up, an extraordinary spotlight has been placed on the Dam’s operator (Exelon Corporation) efforts to renew its operating licence, as well as the projected new policies of a newly elected governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan. It also coincides with the recent release of the most comprehensive study so far on the Lower Susquehanna by the US Army Corps of Engineers, some of which seems to contradict some of the CCC’s primary concerns related to the role and impact of sediment on the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem.

In his interview with the Spy, Fithian remains convinced that sediment, not the damaging nutrients it carries, has caused the death of the oyster industry in his hometown of Rock Hall. He also remains skeptical, after a quick review of the study draft, on the assessment’s conclusion that dredging north of the Dam would be a poor use of resources. Having said that, Fithian reserves his greatest outrage for those that believe the CCC was designed to let county governments off the hook for moving forward with their own, very expensive, watershed implementation plans as mandated by the State and federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite his frustrations and a growing cynicism of the process, Fithian still leaves the door open for compromise. As he says many times, ” the Bay can’t have enough friends.” He is committed to listening and processing new information, but he continues to feel that the Clean Chesapeake Coalition has a responsibility to remain active for some time to come.

This video is approximately twelve minutes in length