Mid-Shore Arts: A Review of Jo Smail and Paul Jeanes at the Kohl by Mary McCoy

You can tell from the title that “Clippings, Voids and Banana Curry” is going to be fun. On view through December 9 at Washington College’s Kohl Gallery, it brings together the work of Jo Smail and Paul Jeanes, two artists from very different backgrounds, who became friends when both were teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art.

At first, it seems to be an odd pairing. Jeanes’s large, powerful paintings unquestionably dominate the gallery with their stark black-and-white slanting shapes, but it’s Smail’s tiny collages that will draw you in like magnets. Shortly, you almost forget about Jeanes as you slip into reading the ’50’s and ’60’s vintage recipes, smiling at the ads for outmoded ladies’ undergarments, and shaking your head at the strangely polite newspaper articles on issues surrounding apartheid.

Jo Smail, collages: digital prints, acrylic and cardboard on paper mounted on board

Smail was born and raised in South Africa, and when she brought a bag full of her mother’s old recipes (including one for banana curry) home from a recent visit, she discovered articles and ads on the back of some of the recipes clipped from newspapers that stand as cultural artifacts of the country during its apartheid years.

Although Smail is primarily an abstract painter, she layered scans of the clippings along with many handwritten recipes and old envelopes into playful compositions of understated color and texture. Floating an inch or so from the wall, these dozens of collages seem to dance, one after another, across the walls of the gallery in a collection hovering between nostalgia and immediacy. Simultaneously engaging and edgy, they call to mind a time when cheerful Afrikaner women, in dresses tailored to the latest American pointy bras and waist-trimming foundation garments, ostensibly found fulfillment in whipping up new recipes every day, while blissfully ignoring the race-based poverty outside their kitchen doors.

Unframed and eschewing the usual rectangular format, Smail’s collages take their complicated shapes from the multiple angles of the clippings, punctuated here and there with offhand painted shapes. Sometimes gestural, sometimes almost evoking an object (one resembles a cartoon time bomb), these painterly elements nimbly introduce a certain animating awkwardness, possibly a metaphor for the deep flaws in the prim culture evoked by the clippings. Casual and often comical, her collages hum with a portentous tension not unlike that underlying our own times.

Paul Jeanes, “Projection Painting #3,” oil on linen on panel

Curiously, Jeanes’s paintings and inkjet prints possess a similar bracing tension, though it reverberates more in the body than the mind. Jeanes teases optical quandaries by playing mercilessly with perspective. What our eyes want to interpret as the four panes of a window in “Project Painting #3” just won’t quite come together. The edges of the “panes” tilt in irreconcilable directions and don’t quite line up.  Sometimes, they even shift directions as if bending back or forward. It’s a visual conundrum that both fascinates and sets your teeth on edge.

To complicate matters further, there’s a creeping realization that super-subtle angled shapes deriving from nothing more than a change in the sheen of the black paint float behind the white shapes. As you grow attuned to these nuances, you begin to notice that the empty white “panes” are not voids, but are alive with evidence of underpainting mingled with the woven texture of the underlying linen panel. A weird sensation of physicality vies with the painting’s tense geometry as the very idea of illusory space held within a static picture plane dissolves.

In his inkjet prints, Jeanes hints that his process begins with observations of actual objects or places. There’s no telling what they really are (a theater stage? a book? a sunbeam slanting across a floor?), but he photographs phenomena that interest him then prints them and cuts them up, rearranges them, experiments, and finally, projects them onto linen or canvas to create his final paintings. Unlike Smail, he prefers his sources to remain anonymous, and he works on a large enough scale that you feel like you could walk into one of his paintings and be lost in an hallucinatory world of shifting perspectives.

More than 30 years her junior and with less exotic roots in North Carolina, Jeanes nonetheless approaches the creative process with the same open, exploratory spirit that Smail cultivates. Curiosity and playful humor energize both artists’ works and make them fun to look at, but it’s the tension of incompatible viewpoints that keep them loitering in the mind. The impossibility of the coexistence of privilege and equality summoned by Smail’s collages and the irreconcilable viewpoints implied by Jeanes’s paintings prod and probe at our settled understandings of the world we live in.

Mary McCoy is an artist and writer who has the good fortune to live beside an old steamboat wharf on the Chester River. She is a former art critic for the Washington Post and several art publications. She enjoys the kayaking the river and walking her family farm where she collects ideas and materials for the environmental art she creates, often in collaboration with her husband Howard. They have exhibited their work in the U.S., Ireland, Wales and New Zealand.

Noises Off Opens at the St. Michaels Middle High School

With the slamming of doors, and the spilling of oysters, the St. Michaels Middle High School Drama Club opened its fall play of Noises Off. Noises Off is a classic British Farce. The play, written by the English playwright, Michael Frayn, tells the story of a group of actors putting on a play. It is a classic “play within a play” show and the laughs come often as the play moves from pre-opening night dress (or is it tech?) rehearsal to the last show of the tour. The original Broadway production was nominated for four Tony’s including Best Play as was the 2015 revival.

The set is gorgeous and cleverly moves from front stage to back stage right in front of the audience.

It is a complex show with actors entering and exiting throughout the many doors. It requires a great deal of precise timing – but the actors nail it.

And it is funny. The laughs start in the first minute of the show and don’t stop until the final curtain. If you don’t laugh out loud when the plate of oysters is dumped on …. ; well, no spoilers, you will just have to come and see it.

So give yourself a break from waterfowl and come to the St. Michaels Middle High school auditorium for an evening of classic British farce and laughter.

The show runs tonight and Friday and Saturday next weekend with the curtain rising at 7:00 pm. Tickets are available at the door.

(And of course, oysters at a “buck a shuck” will be available at intermission; please do not throw them at each other)

Mid-Shore Arts: Troika Gallery’s Laura Era on Starting Anew

The common Russian definition of the word “troika” refers to three horses abreast pulling a sleigh. That seemed to be the perfect name for Laura Era, her mother Dorothy, and their artist friend, Jennifer Heyd Wharton, when the trio opened their gallery in Talbottown twenty-one years ago. Since that time, the Troika Galley has become one of the great success stories of downtown Easton with their remarkable display of fine art from some of the country’s leading artists.

But like all things in life, let alone in the art gallery world, things do change, and the Troika Gallery was not spared that fate when Laura Era had to work through the almost simultaneous death of her mother and Jennifer’s decision to give up her share in the gallery since retiring to South Carolina. Within the span of less than two weeks, Troika had actually become a one-horse tarantass or a single horse-drawn carriage in Russian.

Nonetheless, with store manager Peg Fitzgerald at her side, Laura decided to keep Troika Gallery’s doors open. And, as she notes in our recent Spy interview, it was not a hard decision given what the three partners had achieved; a space of unique serenity, a remarkable collection of artists, and a gathering space for collectors and art lovers alike.

The Spy sat down with Laura this week to get an update.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. Troika will have a special anniversary group show opening and reception on November 9. For more information please go here

 

Mid-Shore Arts: Sumner Hall Presents Roots of African American Music

The MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, the opening act for the Sumner Hall concert series

Chestertown’s Sumner Hall begins a new venture this fall with a stellar concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

Since retiring from the Mainstay, McHugh has worked with the arts programs at the Kent County public schools, bringing recognition to the art teachers and students and working to bring in artists to help expand the students’ horizons. Now, working in a volunteer capacity with Sumner Hall, he has drawn on his many contacts throughout the music world to assemble a concert series to represent the rich spectrum of African American music, from spirituals and blues to the giants of jazz. McHugh was joined by Sumner Hall President Larry Wilson for a Spy interview on the concert series.

Musician Karen Somerville with Tom McHugh, producer of the concert series and director of Arts in Motion – Photo by Jane Jewell

McHugh said the inspiration for the series came when he was at Sumner Hall for an event and read a poster on the wall that made him think about the role of music in African American life in Kent County and how that links to the mission of Sumner Hall. “It’s a poster that just makes you think,” he said. The series inspired by it “is intended to be the legacy of African American contributions to blues and jazz and folk music.”

Reggie Harris

The first performer he thought of was Reggie Harris, guitarist, songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire. McHugh said, “Reggie has this reputation of being able to pull all these currents together.” He said that whenever he brought Harris in for a concert, “I just let him roll,” knowing the result would be right for the situation and the audience. When McHugh called Harris – even before contacting anyone at Sumner Hall – to tell him about the idea of a concert series to present “snapshots” of the different musical genres, Harris said, “I’m in.”

McHugh then began looking for other performers, particularly those who could take the history “way back,” which was when he found out about the MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, a Washington DC-based group that presents the Piedmont Blues style associated with such artists as Cephas and Wiggans. McHugh said MSG had performed at Archie Edwards’ barbershop in Washington, which featured live performances while Edwards cut hair. The group was referred to McHugh by Dave Robinson, a fixture of the Washington jazz scene, who brought a DC-area youth band to the Chestertown Jazz Festival a year ago. Robinson referred McHugh to Archie Edwards Barbershop Foundation and they recommended MSG Acoustic Blues Trio. “You have to get these people…they entertain and educate the audience about the Piedmont blues traditions,” Robinson said.

Larry Wilson, president of Sumner Hall Board of Directors – Photo by Jane Jewell

Having secured those two groups, McHugh said, he felt the rest would be a matter of “filling in.” He presented the idea to some of the Sumner Hall leadership, and the project began to take shape. He said that all the artists had agreed to perform for less than their normal fees, many of them because of their previous experience with McHugh at the Mainstay.

Phil Dutton

He talked about the performers, many of whom are already familiar to local audiences – especially Philip Dutton and Karen Somerville. For their performances in this series, McHugh asked both of them to stretch beyond what audiences have come to expect. Dutton, who usually appears with his band the Alligators, will do a solo set, talking about the influences on his playing. McHugh described Dutton as “a scholar” of the different styles of New Orleans piano playing.

Somerville, best known for gospel performances with the Sombarkin trio, will pay tribute to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin – two of the most revered voices in African American music. McHugh said that he and Somerville have been friends for at least 25 years, and he described her as his main link to the Kent County African American community during his first few years here, introducing him to important members of the community and filling him in on bits of local history.

Pianist Daryl Davis and guitarist Guy Davis (no relation) have been regulars at the Mainstay, with Daryl Davis a frequent performer at Rock Hall Fall Fests. McHugh has known Guy Davis for many years, since inviting him to demonstrate slide guitar at a blues class he was teaching at Vassar. Guy Davis and Reggie Harris played a memorable concert at Sumner Hall a couple of years ago.

Guy Davis – photo by Joseph A. Rosen

One of the less familiar performers is Jason Blythe, a young tenor sax player from the jazz program at the University of Delaware, whom Mchugh heard when the U. Del. big jazz band played at the Mainstay. McHugh described Blythe as “a natural” musician. Learning that one of Blythe’s favorite tenor players is the late Lester Young, McHugh challenged him to recreate Young’s 1946 trio with Nat “King” Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. Blythe recruited two members of the U. Del. faculty to fill out the trio.

McHugh said that each of the performers has agreed to talk about the music with the audience and to answer any questions. “It might have to do with your instrument, or it might have to do with how you got into this music, so people can take those stories out into the community,” he said. In some cases – notably with Daryl Davis, who has made an ongoing effort to meet and engage with members of the Ku Klux Klan – the discussion may range far beyond the music. That’s part of the point – as important as the music is in its own right, it has an important role as part of African American life, and draws on all aspects of the black experience in this country.

Daryl Davis

Wilson reminisced about the music he heard while growing up in Kent County. He and his friends listened to the black-run radio stations, WSID and WEBB from Baltimore and WANN from Annapolis until they went off the air at sundown, then switched to the Baltimore Top 40 station, WCAO – where much of the same music was crossing over into the pop mainstream. He said he hoped the concert series would attract more members of the local African American community – especially young listeners — to Sumner Hall

With this goal in mind, 20 tickets will be set aside for each concert for Special Guests. The concerts’ website notes that there are many members of the community who may be unable to purchase a ticket but who are either a part of the local African American music scene in the region or who are students and youth who would love to attend. Anyone interested in sponsoring one of these community members can purchase a “Sponsor a Special Guest” ticket in addition to their own, and Sumner Hall will make sure that ticket goes to a deserving local music fan. “Sponsor a Special Guest” tickets are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said of the concert series. “Each one is different in its own way but it brings a light to the music.”  The musicians will open the floor for questions and discussion at the end of each concert.  Most concerts are on Saturday, a couple on Friday evenings.  Shows begin at 7:00 pm. The complete series schedule is below.

Everyone involved in the production is spreading the word through email and other media, so anyone interested would be well advised to make advance reservations online here https://aalhconcertseries.eventbrite.com.  The series is supported in part by a generous donation from the Hedgelawn Foundation.

All shows begin at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 each.  The hall seats just a little over 100. Advance ticket sales only. No tickets will be sold at the door.See their website for more information on Sumner Hall and other upcoming events.

The complete schedule:

November 10 – MSG Acoustic Blues Trio Showcases the Piedmont Blues
December 8 – Daryl Davis Offers Boogie Woogie and a Message
February 9 – Phil Dutton Plays New Orleans Piano
March 1 – Guy Davis is on the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings
April 13 – Jason Blythe & University of Delaware Band Re-create the Lester Young Trio
May 11 – Karen Somerville Sings Mahalia, Aretha. . . and More
June 1 – Reggie Harris Wraps It Up

Sumner Hall
206 S. Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
phone 443 282 0023. 

Benny meets Artie: The Anderson Twins bring swing to Oxford Community Center

It was at the surprising age of eight when musicians Will and Peter Anderson fell in love with jazz music. The unlikely culprit of this adoration? A Chips Ahoy! TV commercial, which featured Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” in the background.

“That inspired us to pick up the clarinet,” says Will, with a chuckle.

The two began formal lessons the following year, when they joined their school’s band program. And while their studies focused more on classical training—including a six-year stint at The Juilliard School in New York—jazz was always their passion.

On Saturday, December 1st, the identical twins will perform a throwback to that serendipitous introduction to jazz when they take the stage at Oxford Community Center. Chesapeake Music and OCC have joined together in a harmonious partnership to present Benny meets Artie with Strings.

The show will celebrate the music of legendary big band leaders, Goodman and his widely perceived competitor, Artie Shaw. The acclaimed clarinet prodigies were renowned for pushing the boundaries of jazz, encompassing elements of other genres while maintaining impeccable technique. A feat it seems the Andersons, who the New York Times calls “virtuosos on clarinet and saxophone,” are on track to obtain—albeit without any rivalry!

“We’re showcasing how special Benny and Artie were to American music,” says Will, explaining how their popularity as jazz musicians was unprecedented and their musical proficiency, uncharted. “They were the pop stars of their day.”

The Andersons, playing reeds, will be joined on stage by 15 string players, along with a pianist, bassist, and drummer for an exquisite evening of imaginative renditions of old favorites.

Conducting the performance, and playing vibraphones, will be Kyle Athayde, who also wrote all the arrangements.

“He has a good sense for all this music and what we’re going for,” explains Will. “We’ve hand-picked musicians who we really know are going to knock this out of the park; who have familiarity with both jazz and classical music.”

While the performance will certainly pay homage to the original recordings, the twins will be putting their own spin on the setlist, which includes classics, like Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine” and Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy”—and, without question, the one that started it all: “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

“Their repertoire is so vast, it’s difficult to choose only some of them,” says Will, before teasing one of the more unexpected selections, Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet.”

“It’s not as often played as some of his other hits, but it’s very epic,” he adds. “That’s going to be a highlight, I think.”

Intentionally steering away from simply recreating the songbooks of Goodman and Shaw enables the ensemble to engage in longer improvisations, particularly when it comes to shedding spotlight on the strings.

“This is brand new, never-before-heard versions of what Artie and Benny played,” Will adds, excitedly. “We can’t wait!”

In addition to Goodman and Shaw, Will says he and his brother were heavily influenced by musicians like Duke Ellington, who broke barriers by incorporating more modern elements into his music.

“We love Benny and Artie, but it’s not all we love,” he says. “And at this concert, we’re definitely going to be bringing more into it.”

It’s that element of improvisation and inclusivity of other styles in jazz that the twins find so fascinating. To them, the genre is more about the way a melody is played, than the notes themselves.

“The defining quality of jazz is the rhythm, the syncopation,” Will says.

Coincidentally, it’s those two notions of performance—the soul versus the intellect—that seemingly shaped the riff between Goodman, known as the “King of Swing,” and Shaw, the “King of Clarinet.” And the Anderson twins’ interpretation of those differing styles is something the duo, along with the entire ensemble, look forward to capturing and communicating to the audience.

“[Jazz music] allows for so much molding and shaping,” says Will. “This show is going to be exciting for us. We’re trying to express ourselves in a different way.”

Catch Benny meets Artie with Strings on Saturday, December 1st at the Oxford Community Center. The performance is presented by Chesapeake Music’s Jazz on the Chesapeake in partnership with Oxford Community Center. Tickets are $50. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

TAP Preview: Move Over Mrs. Markham’s Ed Langrell and Jess Newell-Springer

Like many Tred Avon productions, cast members and directors are always a bit cagy about discussing the plotline of the plays they perform when talking to the Spy. And this is certainly true in the case of Move Over Mrs. Markham, when we gathered its director Ed Langrell and actress Jess Newell-Springer to talk it at the Bullitt House recently.
Eager to not give away the surprises that awaits the audience when the show starts on October 25 at the Oxford Community Center, Ed and Jess talk more in broad strokes about the shingains that take place when children’s books publisher and his wife decide to have their London flat redecorated.  As the couple prepare to go out for the evening, several couples plan to take advantage of the empty apartment for some madcap rendezvous.
This video is approximately two minutes in length.
Move Over Mrs. Markham opens October 25th and runs through November 4th.
Thursday/Friday/Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sunday matinees at 2:00pm
Thursday the 25th is special 2-for-1 ticket night.
Tickets may be purchased on line at www.tredavonplayers.orgor at the door.

Mid-Shore Arts: The Daily Work of Qiang Huang by Val Cavalheri

What would it take for an optical engineer, with a Ph.D. in physics, to quit his successful job and take up a totally unrelated field that he wasn’t sure could support his family? Passion. In this case, a passion for creating art. That’s the background story of Dr. Qiang Huang (pronounced Chong Wong). Born and raised in Beijing, China, Dr. Huang currently lives in Austin, Texas, but his work is everywhere there is an art gallery or a computer. That’s because another one of his significant accomplishment might be some modern marketing to complement his traditional still-life painting style.

To hear him tell it, it began after he had moved to the US to study, after graduate school, after joining a startup company, after marriage, after a child, and after getting his citizenship. All the while pursuing a ‘hobby of drawing with charcoal or pencil for fun,’ when he had time after his demanding job. The real motivation came once he bought his first house and wanted to decorate it with some artwork. It was 1998. Says Huang, “I went to places like Michaels and Hobby Lobby, trying to buy some prints, but after so many years of dabbling in art, I was sensitive to colors and style and couldn’t find artwork I really liked. I went to galleries, museums and saw beautiful original fine art, but noticed that it was beyond my affordability.” He thought: Why not paint something?

Realizing he needed more formal art training, Huang took adult education courses from the University of Texas. He also attended various workshops and classes, some of them hundreds of miles away. In the process, he was able to decorate his home, while also accumulating a large inventory of his paintings.

It was in 2007 when there was a shift in his thinking that would change his life. During a Plein Air Austin event, he attended a still life demonstration by a friend of his from Oregon, Carol Marine. Marine, an acknowledged painter and author, introduced Daily Painting, an approach she had recently taken up herself. It involved painting small (5×7, 6×6, etc.), colorful, and realistic pictures every day and then selling them online. Web commerce for artists was a new concept then. At that time, Huang believed that to sell his work he would need gallery representation. Marine changed that. It’s exciting, she told him, and not difficult to do. You put an image of your painting on something called a ‘blog,’ talk about your picture, and link it to an eBay account. People who follow your blog and are interested in your work can buy it immediately without leaving their home.

This new self-representation and self-marketing philosophy was a revelation. With Marine’s help, he opened the accounts, learned how to do some basic marketing, and began to collaborate with other bloggers. He also painted 2-3 hours at night after work, blogging about the painting’s inspiration and process. Within three months, he sold his first painting to someone who was not a family or friend.

Artist Qiang Huang

As Huang’s confidence grew, so did sales. Yet, he was still working full time as an engineer in charge of an R&D department, while also continuing to study and paint daily. It was during this time that he visited a gallery and, much to his surprise, saw one of his paintings for sale for double the price he usually charged. The gallery owner informed him that a collector, who had bought a couple of Huang’s pictures online, was reselling it to make a profit.

This experience began a new phase for Huang. Art galleries asked to represent him. His collector base and number of blog followers grew, and he caught the attention of a workshop organizer from Houston who helped plan a class for Huang to teach.

Despite all the training he had done throughout the years, Huang had never taught before, but was willing to share his experience as a daily painter. “I really prepared,” he said. “English is my second language, so I needed to make sure my teaching was understandable. I did the demonstration, told them how I did this daily painting. Spent the afternoon talking about the business activities, how to use the internet and blog and all of that.” The workshop, he said, was a success. People liked his work and bought some of his painting. He also got additional opportunities to conduct more workshops which led to American Artist Magazine writing a featured article about him.

Huang says of that time: “I started to consider… This could be interesting. My art was taking off, the business was doing well, and I was teaching. More galleries wanted to represent me, which started generating some income. Also, more magazine articles about me came out. So, this venture looked like it was growing. My small business became bigger and bigger. I joined professional art groups, such as the Oil Painters of America and was able to show my work and participate in national shows.”

Huang now found himself in the enviable position of being too busy. He was juggling two careers, each wanting his full attention. “If I’m doing something, I want to do it well,” he said. “If I’m doing two things and both are energy-demanding, I only can be mediocre in both. If I want to do well, I need to be able to concentrate. I only have a certain amount of energy. That started cooking in my mind. I needed to consider taking a break from my technical career and go into art.” Despite this contemplation, it would be another three years (and the blessing of his family) before Huang quit engineering in 2011 to became a full-time artist.

Today, Huang continues to paint daily, is represented by even more galleries, including Studio B Art Gallery in Easton, and his workshops are in demand nationwide. His income, he said, is not comparable to what he used to make as an engineer, but he’s happier and can ‘make ends meet.’ He still considers himself a student, occasionally taking classes to improve his art and expanding his subjects to include more portraits and landscapes. “As I’ve become more and more into landscape, the plein air events have become more important roles in my paintings.” For the second year in a row, Huang participated at the Plein Air Easton this past year, taking home first place in the Quick Draw contest and winning automatic entry into the 2019 competition.

He credits his success and opportunities to the daily painting regime. “It’s a very good exercise,” he says. “Like any activity you want to be good at, you need to practice. It’s given me the discipline, and it is noticeable progress. I also learned internet and technology skills, and how to blog. I learned business, bookkeeping, and taxes. I learned entrepreneurship, and I also made some money.”

As he has in the past, Huang continues to be an innovator. He knows that with the rise of social media, besides the blog, his marketing has to include Facebook and Instagram as well. Art still takes up most of his time, but now he’s also interested in solar power, organic gardening, rainwater harvesting, etc., and uses his technological knowledge and background to pursue environmental sustainability. The irony is not lost on him. “So now after art became my career, my technology part became my hobby,” he says smiling.

For more about Qiang Huang’s art please go to the Studio B Art Gallery website here

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

 

Review: Jay Fleming at the Academy Art Museum by Mary McCoy

While the Academy Art Museum continues to celebrate its 60th anniversary with its downstairs galleries filled with a wide-ranging and fascinating exhibit of works drawn from its permanent collection, upstairs is a remarkable little show by Annapolis photographer Jay Fleming.

Inventive and spectacular are two good words for describing Fleming’s photographs. There’s only the tip of the bow of a boat showing in his photo, “Sinking Workboat,” as it is engulfed by the waves. It’s such a startling image that it’s hard to imagine how he ever managed to shoot it. Its splashing water is so clear and fresh and the deep water surrounding the boat is so dark and foreboding that it’s like a dream, or in the context of this show, a nightmare.

Fleming’s exhibit, “Island Life,” on view through November 11, documents life on the Chesapeake’s only inhabited offshore islands, Smith Island and Tangier Island. Preserving traditions dating back to the islands’ settlement in the late 1600s, many of the islanders still make their living from the Bay’s waters, but rising sea levels, subsiding land and environmental stresses on the Bay and the species it supports threaten both their homes and their livelihoods.

Jay Fleming, “Sinking Workboat,” archival matte canvas print

The mingling of exquisite beauty and a sense of wrenching loss so apparent in “Sinking Workboat” is repeated throughout this show. The shimmering warmth of low sunlight on a venerable workboat is made poignant by its name, spelled out in peeling paint along its bow, “Last Call,” while across the gallery is “Abandoned House on Smith Island,” a shot of a weathered and broken-windowed home standing bravely amidst scraggly bushes and weeds.

The son of a National Geographic photographer, Fleming has his father’s skill at documentation, and he uses his talents and deep knowledge of the Chesapeake region both to earn a living as a commercial photographer and to pursue his passion for documentary art. His photographs are often seen on the covers of such magazines as Wooden Boat and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Save the Bay, and he recently published a stunning book of photographs called Working the Water that chronicles the lives of the Bay’s watermen.

What sets Fleming’s work apart is not just his skill and his easy familiarity with human interactions with the Bay and its creatures, but perhaps most importantly, his dazzling ability to make change visible. Heart-wrenching photos of abandoned houses have become ubiquitous in articles about rising sea levels, but Fleming captured his standing in eerie stillness while a flight of blackbirds swoops away under a lowering sky. A riveting glimpse of the last moment before the birds disappear and the fury of the storm begins, it’s a potent metaphor for the plight of these sinking islands and the loss of a way of life.

Jay Fleming, “Abandoned Skiff,” archival matte canvas print

It’s a puzzle how Fleming manages to create many of these photographs. Somehow, he’s in the right place at the right time, focused and ready to shoot. “Rockfish and Blue Crab” captures these iconic denizens of the Bay together in an underwater double portrait so crisp and colorful that, again, it seems as if it’s out of a dream. Likewise, “Above the Buyboat Delvin K” catches a graceful dance of oyster boats seen from above as they shimmy up to a buy boat to transfer their daily catch. It’s pure beauty, and it’s all about fleeting moments and changing times, laced through with the inkling that what we’re seeing will never be the same.

There’s magic in these photographs, and though we long for preservation and stability, it’s intoxicating to see one scene after another teetering on the edge of change. Still, Fleming conjures a certain optimism in the beauty and clarity of his photographs and in his ability to see familiar things anew. With its bow bearing a curious resemblance to the pointed arch of a shrine, a skiff left to decay in the marsh is a forlorn sight at first glance, but inside is a sign of renewal and hope in the form of a bird’s nest complete with eggs. Change is inevitable whether through human effort or by nature reclaiming its own, but these photographs suggest that by paying attention, there may still be ways to instigate positive changes for the Bay and those of us who live and visit here.

Mary McCoy is an artist and writer who has the good fortune to live beside an old steamboat wharf on the Chester River. She is a former art critic for the Washington Post and several art publications. She enjoys the kayaking the river and walking her family farm where she collects ideas and materials for the environmental art she creates, often in collaboration with her husband Howard. They have exhibited their work in the U.S., Ireland, Wales and New Zealand.

Mid-Shore Arts: Potter Ken Sadler and the Pleasure of Raku

Ken Sadler’s late life journey into pottery would normally be a good story in itself. Discovering the art form from an accidental encounter with Paulus Berensohn’s book, One’s Way With Clay, when well into his late 60s, Sadler not only took up the potter’s wheel but became totally absorbed with clay, including his passion for Raku pottery, the ancient Japanese method of using direct flame to release special colors and exterior surfaces.

But it’s not all “high art” with Ken’s work. Perhaps influenced by his clown character, Dr. Goodwrench, who has appeared at the Easton hospital for years, he has a complete line of clay snakes (and other garden art) that are realistic enough to scare one’s favorite Eastern Shore gardener, or more recently, his creation of “Watchers,” figures designed to be his modern version the St. Christopher medal; very capable of  special protection for its owners.

When Ken and his wife, Sarah, recently sold their Oxford house and moved into Londonderry on the Tred Avon, Ken transferred his studio to the Davis Art Center in Easton to continue both his serious and not so serious pottery. That’s where the Spy found him last month and we had a brief conversation with him about the special pleasures that come with Raku.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Davis Art Center please go here

 

 

Delmarva Review: The Philosophy of Stars: A Personal Essay by Gail Overstreet

Three years ago, I watched as my best friend, my father, gulped down a giant, salted caramel cookie the size of a dinner plate. His face flushed with toddler-like eagerness, crumbs littered his chin on down to the neat, knit collar of his polo shirt. Dad took full advantage of the fact that my stepmother wasn’t there in the Barnes & Noble café to order him a sensible turkey sandwich for lunch.

He was no longer able to drive, and I was still stinging from the 20-minute diatribe he had just unleashed on me due to my missing the correct highway exit in his new town; a town I didn’t know. Unaccustomed to these new and frequent emotional outbursts, I felt rattled.

I tell him to wait for me in the café while I go to the ladies’ room. When I return three minutes later, he is gone. Hastily I explain to the café clerk that my Dad has dementia, and did she see which way he headed? Seeing my panic, she joins me in my frantic search. We find him a long five minutes later, wandering aimlessly on the other side of the store, looking for something or someone.

It would be our last outing together, as a pair.

Most stars have companions; they are bound together by mutual gravity. When paired, stars orbit around each other, with one star typically more gaseous while the other is more rocky. The forces of gravity between them can cause the younger, more gaseous star to gain mass and shape from the older, denser star. Like water swirling around a drain, their orbital gravity allows for the transfer of basic components of a star – gasses, space dust, rocks – and for the younger star to begin to solidify under compression. This compression progressively generates extremely high temperatures within the core of the star-under-construction – known as a protostar – which ultimately leads to fusion. In other words, a star in its infancy through youth evolves from a nebulous, gaseous form, becoming more solid, partly through deriving material from a mature star in its orbit.
Eventually, the younger star graduates from its protostar status, fusing into a fully-baked star in its own right.

My Dad and I were a pair from the start. Fresh out of the Navy in 1965, where he served as an intelligence officer, Dad would spend the next 40 years as a civil engineer drafting plans for the construction of large airports and seaports. When I was in elementary school in the 1970s – while my older brother, in emulation of Swiss Family Robinson, spent all his time playing outside in tree houses or exploring the weedy vacant lot at the end of our road – I would sneak into the den of our modest, Easter egg-yellow ranch house in suburban San Diego. I sat on my Dad’s spinning bar-style chair with the burnt sienna-orange vinyl seat, situated at his drafting table. My legs dangled off the high seat, careful not to disturb any of the drawings he’d been working on. I gingerly fingered the drawing paper; it felt semi-stiff and made a crinkling sound under my light touch, the delicate corners and edges curling up slightly. My eyes traced the outlines of buildings, walls, parking lots. The comforting Dad-scent of his smoky aftershave lingered on his desk pad and drafting pencils.

While he drew, I played on the floor around him, sometimes peeking over his shoulder, wondering if when I grew up I would have my very own drafting table, too. Between his projects, I would experiment with the see-through green, circle-shape drafting templates – struggling with my too-small fingers to keep the hard-plastic mechanical pencils pushed firmly, but not too roughly, against the sharp, beveled edges of the circle shapes, lest the lead would break off – pretending to draw plans of (mostly circular) buildings.

Now, Dad seems light years away from me.

The Earth is continually turning, making it tricky for astrophotographers to track objects in deep space and successfully make clear, sharp images of them. Stability is everything in astrophotography; moving the scope even a few inches can translate into millions of miles off-target once the instrument’s view hits deep space.

For this reason, a telescope has two cameras: the first camera is aimed at the Target Star (or “object”) that the astrophotographer wants to make an image of, while a second camera is aimed at the Guide Star.

A Guide Star serves as a single fixed point in the sky, a reference point. Once the first camera’s shutter opens, the light sensor inside it starts collecting light data from the Target Star. At that point, the sensor in the first camera becomes overwhelmed with bright light, and the view of the Target Star through the astrophotographers camera software goes blank.

A Guide Star is your anchor, your reassurance. You know where you are in time and place in the vast universe. It is home base.

When I was in college, my Dad relished my experience along with me. He was a true intellectual, his mind engrossed by many subjects, delving deeply into the sciences, literature, the arts. Raised in rural farming communities, he diverged from the family and immersed himself in books and music whenever he could, lying in grassy fields on sunny afternoons as a young boy, hearing musical compositions form in his head as he gazed into the vast, blue California sky. My two brothers didn’t go to college, but rather pursued careers in the trades. So, when I finally found my way to Berkeley as an English undergrad in my late twenties, my father was overjoyed.

Dad had bypassed his desire to study music, instead going to school for a professional degree in civil engineering. He envied my study of the Classics, and philosophy, and timeless themes of war, love, redemption, and coming home. Every Sunday, we gathered on the phone, our exclusive club of two. We joked about how we might save the world with the help of Voltaire, Shakespeare, and Homer. After I took my last two final essay exams back to back, my mind happily exhausted in an adrenaline- fueled afterglow, I called Dad.

Once I got into the working world, Dad said, I might never have these moments again – the “high” from intellectual rigor, for the sheer joy of it. Treasure them.

There are observable regions of space that contain hundreds of galaxies, which consist of billions of stars. These galaxy neighborhoods occur due to the expansion of mutual gravity. That is, the more galaxies there are the more gravity that is generated both between pairs of galaxies and among galaxies as a larger group – with the gravitational pull accelerating at an astonishing pace. In fact, “gravity rules” could be the official tagline of how deep space operates – it’s like a giant game of bumper cars up there.

Gravity is how stars are created from their infancy, as protostars. Gravity is what keeps our Earth moving around the sun. Gravity is what will cause the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies to collide into each other a projected four billion years from now.

And in these galaxy neighborhoods, gravity is what causes these astral bodies to orbit each other, and even steal stars from each other if they can get close enough.

Thirteen years ago is when I first noticed. Dad was 65, and we had both traveled to Ohio for a week of festivities before my little brother’s wedding. We were driving around town, having no luck finding bagels to bring back to the group. Pulling up to the third potential restaurant, my dependably even-keeled Dad shouted: “Let’s just get some damn food!”

A jolt of shock coursed through my body. I glanced over at my father, who was staring straight ahead, as if in a trance. I froze, trying not to cry – bewildered by this stranger sitting next to me.

A year later, everyone else noticed. During a family lunch, Dad repeated something he said just 10 minutes earlier, like it was a new thought. My siblings and I froze, our sandwiches and mouths hanging in mid-air. We shot startled looks at each other, as if one of us would deliver the punch line.

Months later, those ten-minute gaps turned into five minutes, a year-and-a-half after that, one minute. During that time, my stepmother relayed the doctors’ findings. First was “atrophy of the hippocampus” (the center of emotion and memory in the brain), which quickly progressed to “moderate” dementia. Then, from the memory specialist’s report: “The severity of his memory impairment is suggestive of an evolving Alzheimer’s disease.” It all happened so fast – once the gravity of the disease took hold the acceleration was astounding, stealing memories by the minute.

A few months ago, I presented my father with a pine cone from the Giant Sequoia, the largest trees in the world, gathered near the mountain home in California that my new husband and I just moved into. I explained how these cones are a rare find since they only typically drop during powerful mountain storms, or an intense wildfire when the tree is under great heat stress. Usually, these cones stay tucked away at the very top of these ancient trees, which can grow as tall as 300 feet and live up to 3,000 years.

Dad glanced at it for about a second, puzzled, then dropped it on a side table, mumbling “Um…OK. Thanks?”

The engineer-father I once knew would have analyzed that pine-cone for hours, noting the exquisite design of its diamond- shaped scales. He would have traced the geometry of the cone with his fingers, observing where the outer scales joined the core, and where the core joined the stem. He would have considered how functionally astute this tree was, protecting its seeds deep inside its tightly closed orbit.

My Dad will never see our new home. He doesn’t remember my husband between our visits to see him and my stepmom in Florida. He doesn’t remember that I now live in California, just up the mountain from where his family farmed the San Joaquin Valley for decades starting in the late 1930s, refugees from the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. He doesn’t remember that I went to Berkeley, or the constellations of hours-long conversations we had about what I was discovering and learning, or that he came to see me there.

And one day, he won’t remember me.

Comets are loners. They are trapped within the sun’s orbit, accelerating as they get closer to it, the sun’s gravity exerting great centrifugal force. Unlike stars, comets do not easily reveal which way they are headed.

Even a comet’s orbit is different from a star’s. Elliptical, like an oval, instead of circular as with stars, comets are much more unpredictable. A comet’s movements, direction, and whether it will someday crash into the sun – or be able to escape the sun’s massive pull and free itself – ultimately remains a mystery.

Many comets are like Comet Catalina, which we are now seeing from Earth for the last time. It has gotten just close enough to the sun to take advantage of its centrifugal force, and be propelled out of our solar system forever.

Soon, it will cross a threshold and escape from us. Maybe it will linger a bit longer in the liminal space between our solar system and what lies beyond it. Or, maybe it will go out in a blinding blaze, gone in a flash.

However it goes, we will know it is still out there, blazing its trail in the deep corners of space, just out of our sights.

Gail Overstreet’s essay in the 10th edition of Delmarva Review has been selected as a “Notable” essay in “The Best American Essays 2018.” Ms. Overstreet received her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. She is a teacher and astronomer and lives with her husband at 5,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, near their astronomy observatory. Her work has appeared in National Geographic: Sierra Nevada Geotourism, Orion, and other publications.

Delmarva Review is a national literary journal with regional roots. In it’s eleventh year, the nonprofit journal publishes compelling new prose and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions, sales, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.