At the Academy: Amze Emmons and his Pattern Drift

For the record, the Academy Art Museum rarely fills all three of their first floor galleries with the same artist, so it’s a pretty strong clue as to how seriously the AAM appreciates their work when this does happen. And that is certainly the case with Philadelphia-based Amze Emmons’ current exhibition entitled Pattern Drift at the South Street arts center.

Bringing together fifteen years of the artist’s work in documenting the realism of urban life through the influence of comics and cartoon language, information graphics, news footage, and even packaging, Emmons has used his observations to bring new life to familiar scenes of construction sites, road closings, and such iconic urban artifacts like the traffic warning cones or plastic chairs.

The Spy sat down with Amze a few days before he leaves Easton after a few weeks in residence about work and his connection to these illustrative examples of 21st-century living.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Pattern Drift at the Academy Art Museum please go here.


In the Studio with Alison Hall Cooley

“The first petri dish in life is your family,” says Alison Hall Cooley, a painter who interprets the natural world in a visual language of her own invention. One such conversation is now on display at the Adkins Arboretum near Ridgely in an exhibit she calls “Tidal.”

“What is our relationship with nature?” she asks. “Are we good witnesses to it?” As a witness or interpreter of nature’s nonverbal language, Cooley paints or speaks in an abstract lexicon that features pooling bursts of color amid smudges of non-reflective earth tones and outbreaks of parasitic crawlers. It’s both a beautiful and somewhat creepy assembly of imagery made up of blue-black bruises of pain and scabs of red-brown badges of healing.

Tidal 9140 (diptych), mixed media on panel, 48 x 72 inches.

I don’t pretend that Cooley would describe her work this way, but as she admits, art is open to whatever the viewer sees in it. So, I’m going with bruises and scabs on a really shiny surface that may or may not be crawling with insects. Cooley once favored watercolors on paper. Now her preferred medium is slick acrylic over gesso-prepped wood panel. Thirteen of her paintings, all labeled “Terra,” are on display at the arboretum gallery and gift shop—or 16 if you count her three diptychs as single pieces. (Cooley says she’d consider divorcing her pairs to sell them as singles.

That would be $1,600 to $2,800 per divorcee.)

idal 9220, mixed media on panel, 40 x 60 inches

But back to the petri dish of family. The term seems an apt metaphor for her work that could be and has been described as “biomorphic” and “molecular.” Cooley vividly recalls long car rides from their home in Washington, D.C., to south Florida with stops in between breaking up a 17-hour drive. “Every time we went back to Florida, our parents, my sister’s and mine, would talk about how nothing had changed. And I’d look at them like they’re crazy. There was change all around. I notice these sorts of things.”

Maybe that’s what makes an artist. That and her home environment which has changed dramatically over the years.
Cooley recalls that on their trips back from Florida, her parents would roll the car windows down when they got back to the D.C. area. The humid, muggy air gave them all a feeling of being back home again.

Some of these experiences we all share seem impossible to delineate in a painting. But Cooley tries. Living in a rural cottage just outside of Easton has brought aromas to her heightened attention—scents associated with tidal ebbs and flows of a nearby tributary, alternate blooms and decays of agricultural industry—from cornfields to peach orchards.

Cooley and her husband, Ben Simons, director of Easton’s Academy Art Museum, lived for a dozen years on Nantucket, an island far enough off Cape Cod to be invisible when you board the boat to that destination. Her work then, she says, “was informed by solitude, beauty and severity of the natural world.” The birth of their son, Finley, now 9 and as inquisitive as his mother, no doubt made a difference. Then a year of living in London infused Cooley’s “Hot Pink Period” with cosmopolitan electricity. “I think of pink as a very powerful and provocative color—the color of lungs, tongues, palms, gums, tissue—alive and vital.”

Living in or around Easton evokes a different palette—blues and greens of water and vegetation, black and brown of tree bark, rich soil and deep forests. Do I smell pungent odors of, for instance, a low tide in Cooley’s paintings now on display within easy range of cornfields, woodland and a bright green algae-bloom pond? No, I but I did catch a whiff of the creamy brie served at her opening reception. Yet in her work I detect a bubbly percolation that may burst at any moment to emit a putrid stink or delightful aroma.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts critic and editor now living in Easton.

“TIDAL” Through Sept. 27, Adkins Arboretum, 12610 Eveland Rd., Ridgely; 410-634-2847,


Spy Minute: Artist Lesley Giles on her Moon Series

Lesley Giles is an English artist but that hasn’t stopped her from documenting one of America’s most remarkable accomplishments;  the conquest of space in the 1960s and 1970s. After moving to Florida with her husband, she became fascinated with the space rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, just miles away from where the couple lived. And the result of those experiences led her to capture iconic images from the USA’s mission to conquer outer orbit using her unique vision of space and time.

Giles is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths’ College, London University. She has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums in the UK, Europe, USA and also in China following a Visiting Painter invitation to Urumqi, Xinjiang in 1996. Her work has been published by Harper Collins in “Watercolour Masterclass” and “The Challenge of Landscape” as well as being featured in several magazines.

The Spy spent a few minutes with Lesley at the Trippe Gallery in Easton to talk briefly about this special interest of hers, and how it has impacted her art in general.

The Art of Lesley Giles: Moon Series
For the month of August
Trippe Gallery 
23N Harrison St Easton

The Story of Olive Lucas (Part Two) by Mary Robinson

Editor’s note: When we heard the story of Olive Lucas written by Spy friend Mary Robinson we wanted to share it with our readers. It’s a period of our history that we felt our readers would appreciate and a story you may not know – an African American nurse’s service in World War II. The five-part series covers her time in the Army Nurse Corps between 1942 and 1945. This will be a five-part series.

Part Two – Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Here I am, 2nd Lieutenant Olive Lucas, a member of the Army Nurse Corps. Our bus leaves at nine tomorrow morning headed for Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I and five other nurses will be on that bus, headed for our first Army assignment. It is summer in New York and it is so hot that there is steam rising from the pavement. I love the city, but have to admit, I am looking forward to leaving the heat and humidity behind me.  This cross country trip will take us to Sierra Vista, Arizona where Fort Huachuca is located. Sierra Vista is about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico and it is surrounded by the Huachuca Mountains. The fort encompasses almost 100 square miles of desert at the foot of the mountains. 

It is August 25, 1942, and here I am in this isolated place in the middle of the Sonoran desert. The bright lights of New York have been left behind and I find myself here amongst the poisonous snakes, spiders, chiggers and a host of other desert creatures. On top of all that, there is heat, sand, dust and constant winds. Just stepping off the bus and my shoes are covered in a mix of brown dust and sand. I thought New York was hot, but this is the kind of heat that is going to take some getting used to.                                                                                                                                                 

I know the official Army policy calls for segregation of all base facilities, but it is a little disconcerting to see that every single area of the base is segregated. Civilian quarters for locals who work at the hospital, service clubs, officers’ clubs and most importantly, both hospitals are segregated. Hospital No. 1 is staffed by and serves all Negro personnel and their families. Hospital No. 2 serves all other personnel, their families and civilians. Fort Huachuca is home to between 17,000 and 20,000 Negro soldiers, nurses and other personnel. Two combat units of Negro soldiers, the 92nd and 93rd Infantry divisions are based here at Fort Huachuca.

I never imagined a hospital this size on an Army base. The hospital covers several acres with various units connected by miles of corridors that are over a half mile in length. I quickly realized the best feature of the whole hospital is that the connecting corridors are covered, which offers protection from the unrelenting sun, wind and sand. To give you an idea of just how vast this complex is, consider that it includes three Dental clinics, PX, barber shop, beauty shop, cafe and soda fountain, recreation halls, gyms, tennis court, movies, a library, and outdoor fields for exercise and baseball. 

Today began with basic training. We had to perform all of our duties wearing our civilian clothes, even the drills in the middle of the day, in August, in the desert! Our basic training will last six weeks. I can’t imagine how we can do six weeks of this in our civilian clothes. The explanation given was that the Army is in transition from changing our uniforms from the Red Cross uniform to an Army Nurse Corps uniform. The components of basic training will cover medical and military training in the form of drills, map reading, tent pitching, obstacle and infiltration courses, as well as physical fitness.

It is probably a good thing that the hospital complex is so large because the soldiers, nurses and other Negro personnel will most likely be spending the majority of our off-duty time on the base. Off-base businesses and restaurants do not serve Negroes even if they are wearing the U.S. Army uniform. The one advantage is that with the two combat units based here, it allows for an active social life for the nurses.

The WACs are coming! This is the best news we have had in weeks. The Women’s Army Corps is a unit that does a whole variety of jobs. They do everything from doing repairs for military vehicles to being responsible for entertainment and morale boosting on the base. There is a rumor that they will be the ones to create an officer’s club for the Negro officers at Fort Huachuca. The current club, The Lakeside Officers Club, is not open to Negro officers. The new officer’s club will be a great place to hold the shows that the USO provides. Entertainers like Lena Horne, Count Basie, Billie Holiday and many more will be able to perform and the Negro audience won’t need to be sitting at the back of the room.

I enjoy reading the magazines and newspapers in our library. There are always issues from the Negro newspapers from all over the country. The Chicago Defender, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Crisis Magazine all have war correspondents that are writing articles about Negros serving in all areas of the war. The experience of Negro nurses can be different from one area to another, but some things are unique to this group of nurses. I remember a comment from a nurse who when asked her view of the role of Negros in the war replied, “I find it exciting, and I am learning so much, but at the same time I find it to be the most frustrating experience I have ever had. In spite of all that I have met so many wonderful people.” I know exactly how she feels.



– Location of Fort Huachuca, Fighting for America, Christopher Paul Moore, pg. 96

– Segregation Policy – G.I. Nightingales, The Army Nurse Corps in World War II, Barbara Brooks Tomblin, pg. 194

– Hospital description – The Chicago Defender, Langston Hughes, May 20, 1944; pg. 19

– WACs – Enemies in Love, Alexis Clark, pg. 63    

– Ninety-second and Ninety-third Infantry – G.I. Nightingales, The Army Nurse Corps in World War II, Barbara Brooks     Tomblin,pg.194                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Mary Robinson lives in St. Michaels, Maryland.                                                                                                 

Delmarva Review: Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket by David Salner

Delmarva Review Editor’s Note: David Salner’s poems are full of fresh and evocative images. He invites his readers in with exacting language, surprising metaphor and a subtle music. His work bears reading over and over as we discover layers of meaning. In “Summoned At First Light,” the poet imagines how Herman Melville, in his memoir “White Jacket,” may have looked back on an episode in his life from the vantage of many years. Melville is recounting a sailor’s flogging, commonly used at the time by the U.S. Navy as corporal punishment. Here, he conjures the thought of what to do with “beauty” at a time of man’s suffering.

Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket

Bare feet on deck, 

he felt the waves wash through the boards, 

the long swell, the tender holding of the sea. 


But when the boatswain twirled his cat, 

he guessed what they’d been summoned for. All afternoon, 

as the keen scourge hissed, he listened. Just listened,


which left a mark. Our lives are made of water, 

a wash of salts within us, a tide 

rising and falling back. As an old man, 


he watched the sun sink to a line

where sea and sky are blended, a measureless

haze at the horizon. And studied how the darkness


spread from wisps of pink and orange. And wondered, 

what am I to do with beauty?

What am I to do with that man’s pain?


David Salner’s writing appears in recent issues of Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and previously in Delmarva Review. His third book is Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press) and his fourth, From House to House, is to be published by Broadstone Media (fall, 2019). He worked as an iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, longshoreman and has a MFA from the University of Iowa. He is writing a novel about the lives of the sandhogs who built the Holland Tunnel. Website:

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available from and Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford. An electronic edition is also sold at Website:

Spy Minute: The TAP Gang Prepares for “It Shoulda Been You”

The Tred Avon Players sometimes are the hardest folks for the Spy to interview. While its cast members have no hesitation in promoting the TAP’s theatrical offerings throughout the year, one topic that is forbidden territory is giving away too much of the plot.

That was certainly the case when actors Shelby Swann and Mike Sousa, along with TAP director Joe Tyler, came by for a visit to the Spy studio to talk about their most recent production of “It Shoulda Been You,” starting August 15 at the Oxford Community Center.

All three declined to give away many details about the story line, but so give enough hints to encourage the Mid-Shore’s theater crowd to make a special trip to Talbot County to catch this very funny original new musical.

It Shoulda Been You invites you to a wedding day that will be hard to forget. The bride is Jewish. The groom is Catholic. Her mother is a force of nature. His mother is a tempest in a cocktail shaker. And, when the bride’s ex-boyfriend crashes the party, the perfect wedding starts to unravel faster than you can whistle “Here Comes the Bride!” It’s up to the sister of the bride to turn a tangled mess into happily ever after in this musical comedy for anyone who ever had parents.

You get the idea.

The Spy spent at few minutes with the TAP last week to at least wet our whistle for what will be another TAP crowd pleaser.

This video is approximately one minute in length. For ticket information please go here



Shore Arts: Heather Harvey at the Academy Art Museum

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Or in this case another woman’s treasure. If you live in Easton and you happen to check out one of the three new shows at the Academy Art Museum you just might recognize some of your trash featured in the Heather Harvey exhibit “The Thin Place.”

Harvey, a Washington College associate art professor, prowls the streets, alleyways and parking lots of Easton on what she calls “urban beachcombing” expeditions. She searches for debris that comprise her installations, three of which hang at the museum through Sept. 30.

Belonging by Heather Harvey

Harvey, a Syracuse native whose undergraduate degree from the University at Buffalo—“I’m an upstate New York girl,” she says—is in anthropology and archaeology. She regards herself as a science-inspired artist. Harvey earned her MFA in art from Virginia Commonwealth University and now chairs art and art history at the Chestertown college. She lives in Easton with her husband, who teaches history at Salisbury University—splitting the geographical distance from their academic venues.

At the Academy museum, her installations are accompanied by about a dozen paintings, watercolor and acrylic, that reflect a different side of Harvey’s exploration of “areas where we don’t have everything figured out, re-inculcating childlike enchantment and wonder.” These are “thin places,” a Celtic expression for permeable divides between living and dead, sacred and profane, commonplace and extraordinary—even extraterrestrial. The science part of that enchantment, she says, are “invisible ordering systems” that define our life on this planet—astronomy, gravity and weather, including wind (“we only see its effects”) as well as magnetic fields. Other paintings are metaphors for certain effects on our lives, such as emotions, or even more defining biological or sociological realities, including gender, race and class.

Possibility by Heather Harvey

Among the most personal of her paintings is “Hope Sound,” the name of the place in Florida where her friend, poet Mary Oliver, passed away. Painted on the day Oliver died, it expresses, Harvey says, her grieving, her thanks for having known her friend and “a sense of ascension.” By contrast, another painting derives from scientific curiosity, inspired by her trip with her husband two years ago to South Carolina to experience a total solar eclipse.

“There’s a little bit of Baroque in my pieces,” Harvey says, referring to a suggestion of exaggerated motion and detail to produce drama and a sense of exuberance. But she also goes for the sublime. “That’s beauty mixed with awe that borders on terror. An eclipse is like that,” she says. “An unsettling tension between the two.”

As for the trash you may or may not recognize, Harvey on her nocturnal sojourns seeks surprise in whatever she finds. “I’m not looking for anything in particular,” she says. “I don’t get the idea first and then go out and look for something to complete it. The objects themselves inform my work.”

Not all the objects are recognizable. Twisted pieces of metal. Shards of plastic or rubber. Others we can guess at, such as a bit of green-and-red ribbon. A discarded piece of Christmas wrapping? Maybe a tree decoration. Still others are unmistakable. A child’s sandal missing its mate.

Whatever, Harvey endeavors to create aesthetic treasure out of it.

For Heather Harvey, who has exhibited from New York City to Los Angeles, this is her first show in the hometown where she gathers most of her material. The other two shows coinciding with Harvey’s at the Academy Art Museum are Amze Emmons’ “Pattern Drift” and James Turrell’s “Mapping Spaces.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

Spy Chat: Writer Laura Lippman on Baltimore, Urban Values, and News

It says a lot about one of the country’s most popular crime writers that Laura Lippman decided to add Oxford on her new book tour. With most of her other events over the next few weeks booked in some of the East Coast’s largest cities, her return to the Eastern Shore last Monday evening at the invitation of our beloved Mystery Loves Company bookstore at Doc’s Sunset Grille is just one example of how fond she is of the Chesapeake region.

Another example has been Lippman’s lead character for her last three books, detective Tess Monaghan, a graduate of Washington College in Chestertown, who continues to use the Eastern Shore as a special getaway when not solving crimes on the Western Shore.

But Laura’s real love has always been Baltimore, which is the center of most of her stories, and where she has lived with her family and husband, writer David Simon, for decades. That tradition continues in her new book, “Lady in the Lake,” which tells the tale of two real-life Baltimore disappearances in the 1960s through the lens of lead character Maddie Schwartz, who probes these mysteries and the racial complexities related to these two crimes.

And Baltimore was on Laura Lippman’s mind when we met her at Doc’s. After a weekend when President Donald Trump took to Twitter to insult the city and people she loves, our conversation quickly turned to a discussion of urban life, urban values, and the role of newspapers and social media in contemporary society.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Mystery Loves Company bookstore and to purchase a copy of  “Lady in the Lake,” please go here. 

At the Academy: Open Mic Night Wednesdays

With all the good hustle and bustle of the Academy Art Museum’s nonstop art classes and significant exhibitions, it is sometimes easy not to notice the AAM’s other efforts to bring its Mid-Shore community together to enjoy the other arts like music.

One of those amazing programs is their one a month open mic night when local musicians gather in the museum’s auditorium on Monday evenings to perform and support each other.Directed by Ray Remesch, the AAM’s music specialist, as well as Christ Church of Easton’s Minister of Contemporary Music, the AAM’s open mic, offers a variety of performances, demonstrations, and presentations that taps into the region’s endless supply of talented artists.

The Spy’s Tori Paxon caught up with Ray a few weeks ago at the Academy to learn more.

This video is approximately minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here.

Spy at the Troika: Raoul Middleman and Wrestling with Art

Raoul Middleman’s personality is as colorful as his art.

That became vividly apparent in dual appearances at Plein Art Festival events Saturday evening: an interview and reception at the Troika Gallery, where 20 of his paintings are on display through Aug. 3, sandwiched around a film preview and question-and-answer adventure—you could call it performance-art storytelling—at the Avalon Theater.

Crusty Old Dude

Deservedly billed as “Legendary Artist” by the Troika Gallery, which sponsored the Avalon show and has represented him for 23 years, Middleman taught at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for 58 years until his retirement from teaching last month. His freewheeling, wide-ranging paintings are in the collection of, among others, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery/National Gallery of Art in Washington, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Academy of Design in New York.   

Middleman, 84, describes his approach to painting as “a wrestling match. . . . I start out with a vague idea of what I’m going to paint and then the brush, the application, takes over. That’s an exquisite moment. What I come up with is a surprise, even to me.”

“His personality and storytelling are inseparable from his brushstrokes and narrative art,” says one of his thousands of former Maryland Institute students, Liz Parks. (Full disclosure: My wife participated in our interview with Middleman, reminding him when he recalled his youthful days in Montana as a ranch hand (of sorts) that his student, then known as Ms. Goodman, dubbed him “the Sam Shepard of art,” after the late playwright known for his American West vernacular.

In a scene from an in-progress documentary on his career, titled simply “Middleman,” screened at the Avalon, we see the artist shopping at Lexington Market. (He’s Baltimorean through and through.) In the market for scaly models, Middleman chooses four fish to take to his home/studio. Not to be fried, baked or broiled. But they are served up raw in a seafood still life, similar to one in the window of the Troika right now. He arranges them around a couple of lemons, also purchased at Lexington Market, and slathers paint on the canvas as if filleting his catch. Then he changes his mind and reconfigures the scene.

His art has been described by critics as “messy and real,” reflecting the chaos of life and nature. If he has one particular muse, it’s “the super-funky Baltimore atmosphere,” citing filmmaker John Waters as a fellow-minded artist. 

He majored in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and hoped to become a writer until visiting a girlfriend in New Orleans who gently nudged him in the direction of art. Soon he was studying at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

“I could always draw,” he said, adding, “If someone suggests you should do something different and that doesn’t work out, then you have two asses to kick.” 

Like many artists in any field, Middleman declines to be confined to a single genre. Early on, he did Pop Art, which he gave up in pique over a dispute with a New York gallery owner. He turned to landscapes, about as far from Pop Art as you can get, and continued in landscape artistry periodically throughout his career. Several wreckage-of-nature paintings can be seen now at the Troika. For a time, at its height in the 1960s, he favored abstracts and later narrative paintings telling a story that could be re-interpreted by whomever beholds it. 

He likens his progression to Renaissance painter Bellini, whose earlier paintings Middleman calls “linear” in style. Later, Bellini moved closer to the approach of many of his students, among them Titian—more painterly, more sensual. “To some, Bellini’s earlier work is his best,” Middleman says. But time bends fashion and taste. And what once was deemed hip is later dismissed as ho-hum. And vice-versa.

Middleman has ridden that wave throughout his career as a painter, even drawing inspiration from former students, trying new styles.

To his son’s question, Middleman recalled that at one point in his career he was an Abstract Expressionist.

 “ ‘No you’re not, Dad,’ ” Middleman said. “You’re an Argumentative Expressionist.”

Apparently, the father agrees.

“Painting is an open question,” he says. “A good painting is kind of an argument. Whatever the artist may think it means, it may be something completely different to each viewer. So, there is no single right answer. Only questions.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

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