A space for artists to flourish

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Robert Friedman

Mary Jo Tydlacka paints vividly colored theatre scenes in her studio at the Howard County Center for the Arts. She is one of 14 artists who rent space at the Ellicott City center.
Photo by Frank Klein

Nearly every day at her studio at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, Mary Jo Tydlacka works on her vivid canvases and charcoal drawings, some of which depict outdoor performances of Shakespeare.

She is one of 14 artists who rent space at the center. More than half of them are over 50.

“I do what I love,” said the 67-year-old Woodstock resident. “Art can be isolating, but here at the studios, it’s almost like we’re a protected species.”

Tydlacka turned to a career in art after teaching English at Pyle Junior High School in Bethesda for several years. She started taking art classes at the University of Maryland and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, then spent a year studying classical art in Rome. She’s had a studio at the Howard center since 1984.

Tydlacka combines her love of language and art by painting scenes from Shakespeare plays, starting with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performances at the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. One of these paintings hangs in the storied Globe Theater in London, a gift from Tydlacka after the theater’s manager came to a local production.

Tydlacka also has works in the Folger Theater’s permanent art collection. Michael Kahn, the D.C.-area’s classic theater guru and artistic director of the Shakespeare Theater Company, owns her painting of a scene from an outdoor production of As You Like It.

Romeo and Juliet

A studio of one’s own

The studios offer ample room and natural light for the visual artists, who have 24/7 access to their working space.

Today, studios are difficult to come by because most of the artists have been renting their spaces for 10 years or more. Nevertheless, openings do occur from time to time, said Elizabeth Berman, a center staff member.

To rent a space, an artist must submit works, which are considered by a jury from the Howard County arts community. Rents range from $160 to $500 a month.

Located in a former elementary school off High Ridge Road, the center supports a wide range of the county’s arts activities.

There Howard County residents of all ages take classes in the visual and performing arts, galleries exhibit the works of local artists, and a small “black box” theater offers its stage for dance and theater groups.

Howard County performance groups, such as the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, the Columbia Orchestra and the Howard County Ballet, also have office and working space at the center.

Midsummer Nights Dream

Varied art forms

Another resident artist, James Adkins, taught art at Howard and Mount Hebron High Schools for 17 years. He now directs the non-digital visual arts classes at Howard Community College.

Adkins, 64, also attends from time to time the weekly sessions where artists draw live nude models. Adkins’ paintings of nudes grace the scores of easels in his studio, and his female-figure drawings fill up the drawers of his flat files.

He said he started out doing mostly landscapes, but has switched to nudes because that’s where the artistic challenge is — if not the money.

Unless you are a Renoir or a Goya, he said, drawing the human figure in the altogether is an “ongoing battle.” Adkins also noted that sales of nudes have been estimated at only about 5 percent of the art market.

“I’m not sitting at the easel to pay the mortgage,” he said. “I’m in it for the challenge, since figure drawing is such a difficult subject to master.”

Adkins’ work has been shown in numerous exhibitions on the East Coast, including at Maryland Art Place in Baltimore and the Columbia Art Center.

Down the hallway is the studio of Leora “Lee” Smith, who started renting her studio more than 20 years ago as she was celebrating her 70th birthday. She began her artistic endeavors as a weaver, returned to school at 60 to study art at Catonsville Community College, and now, going on 91, works primarily in collages and pastels.

“I love the collage process.” Smith said. “I keep playing with it, rearranging things.”

Raised on a cattle ranch in the wide-open Colorado spaces, Smith has been working on a desert scene collage for many months. The “rocks” in the boxed-in collage, which look just like small stones, are actually painted paper, she said.

Her works often depict distant vistas. “I’m very interested in space,” Smith said. “I had a view from the ranch house where I grew up for 50 to 150 miles. I think that’s why I can see colors and the atmosphere so clearly and can create distances.”

Hanging from a wall are temari balls, a folk art form Smith picked up in her travels to Japan. The several-hundred-years-old tradition consists of weaving threads on balls in colorful and mostly geometric and symmetrical patterns.

“I do these in my spare time,” she said. “I always will be making something.”

Twelfth Night

Sailing into art

Diana Marta, meanwhile, considers herself a “contemporary expressionist” who works in oils, watercolors, drawings, installations and computer images.

She holds a Ph.D. in art education from Penn State, teaches classes at Catonsville Community College (including computer art), curates shows, and has exhibited at galleries and art spaces throughout the Baltimore/Washington region.

In a recent project, Marta folded pages from art magazines into paper boats, signed the boats’ bows to give them “artifact status,” and placed them on an acrylic mirror placed below her flame-colored wall painting of little sailboats on the water.

Visitors could take part in the project by scooping up a boat and keeping it, thus changing the spatial relations in the work. Or they could fold their own paper boat and have it set sail on the watery mirror.

Marta is currently working on a quilting project being put together by Joan Gaither, who chairs arts education at MICA. Gaither, known as a “documentary story quilter,” has asked several of her artist friends to make autobiographical quilts.

Marta is quilting her life story, including pictures and buttons with reminiscences of World War II and her father’s service in the Army, her mother’s nursing activities, and the family’s frequent traveling, which includes images of U.S. Route 66.

The quilt also includes fabrics from her childhood, a reproduction of her expressionistic painting of a tomato-red wooden chair, and recent digital images.

Marta often paints chairs or places them in her installations because, “I consider chairs to be metaphors for people,” she said.

“In my work they sometimes represent me. The vintage chairs from my family history remind me of the people with whom I shared them.”

Marta, who puts her age at “well over 50,” is also into digital art, which she sees as “one more medium” in which to make ageless art by artists of any age.

Mary Jo Tydlacka paints vividly colored theatre scenes in her studio at the Howard County Center for the Arts. She is one of 14 artists who rent space at the Ellicott City center.

Photo by Frank Klein