These artists win awards for painting the town

Let painters loose in historic Ellicott City, and they'll quickly create enough pretty pictures to fill an art gallery. The pictorial proof is hanging on the walls of the Howard County Arts Council, which is located just a short drive away from the depicted scenes.

"Paint It! Ellicott City" contains work by 25 painters who participated in an en-plein-air paint-out that was juried by artist Terry Shovlin, who teaches at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, in Towson.

It's appropriate that this exhibit's first-place winner depicts what amounts to the gateway to the historic district. Hiu Lai Chong's oil painting "Ellicott City" is compositionally framed by the railroad bridge crossing the foot of Main Street. The town's name is assertively painted on the side of the bridge, making that entire structure seem like a giant billboard.

Several other artists set up near the same spot, which provides a great view up the narrow, hilly road that defines the old mill town. Their emphasis isn't always the same, however, as can be seen in Alexander Wissel's oil painting "13' 3"." His title refers to a small, yet important, road sign indicating the height of the railroad bridge.

Once you've safely gotten into town, there is a lot of architecture to attract your attention. The second-place winner, Mark Coates, has an oil painting, "Early Sunday Morning," whose title is a reference to a famous painting by the 20th-century American painter Edward Hopper. Coates' somewhat similar composition depicts bright sunlight and sharply defined shadows playing across storefronts on a quiet morning.

Just as Coates' painting is unpeopled, many other artists in this show focus on the buildings set against a hilly landscape. Firmly in this category is Kathleen Kotarba's oil painting "Church Street Vista," featuring a church steeple rising above the surrounding rooftops.

Church steeples serve as compositional anchors for other artists, including Elena Maza, whose oil painting "Storm Over Ellicott City" has storm clouds gathering behind a steeple. Although a storm is brewing, it seems significant that a house in the foreground is flying an American flag that calmly hangs straight down. Even a storm doesn't seem to ruffle the peaceful mood of this exhibit.

Notable structures around town that receive painterly tributes include another oil painting by Alexander Wissel, "Firehouse," which looks past that quaint building. Your eyes are guided downhill by the lofty utility poles lining Main Street.

Debra Moffitt's oil painting "Dawn Dappled Ruins" is a muted purple-and-gray depiction of the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in the very early morning. Meanwhile, Stewart White sets up there at night for an outdoor theater production in his oil painting "A Midsummer Night's Play."

By way of industrial structures, Lynn Mehta's oil painting "Silos" is an imposing view of the clustered silos on the Baltimore County side of the Patapsco River. They define the skyline as much as any church steeple or railroad bridge.

Additional works in the show give a street-level sense of an old town whose houses, shops, churches and other buildings hug the hilly streets. So many of these artists opt for unpeopled views that it's refreshing to find a few artists providing at least schematic depictions of the residents and tourists who make it such a lively place.

For a quietly inhabited scene, look at David Diaz's oil painting "Afternoon Chat." It depicts a couple seated under a green umbrella. For a more hectic scene, check out a watercolor by Stewart White, "Ellicott City Intersection." True to its title, it gives a nice sense of how buildings, pedestrians and motorists are squeezed into the 18th-century street grid.

Also taking part and contributing to the success of this exhibit are Edward M. Williams, Lisa Kyle, Duane Sabiston, Janice Kirsh, Linda Newton, Steve Stannard, Nancy Lee Davis, Heather Leatherman, Greg Johannesen, Ann J. Crostic, Michael Kotarba, Jane Ayres, Hoainhon Caramenico, Mary Jo Tydlacka, Nick Aumiller and Maria Marino.

"Paint It! Ellicott City" runs through Aug. 24, in Gallery I at the Howard County Arts Council, at 8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City. Call 410-313-2787, or go to Running concurrently in Gallery II is "No Boundaries," an exhibit by artists with developmental disabilities that was organized by the Howard County Recreation and Parks Department of Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Services in conjunction with Cedar Lane School.

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