Artist in residence brightens Cylburn Arboretum

Baltimore City's Cylburn Arboretum is an artist's paradise, which is why painter Patricia Bennett has been drawn to the 207-acre grounds of trees and gardens since 2005.

But unlike other artists who dot the landscape of the longtime city park, Bennett, of Mount Washington, now has an official reason to be there.

Since January, the 36-year-old attorney's wife and busy mother of two young children has been working as Cylburn Arboretum's first-ever artist-in-residence, a program that city officials say is designed to formalize the natural connection between artists and the arboretum.

Bennett receives a $2,000 stipend for the year and the prestige of illustrating one of north Baltimore's best known and most picturesque tourist attractions.

For Bennett, who grew up in Homeland and used to live and paint in Charles Village, painting at Cylburn is a personal labor of love.

"I care about it," she said. "It's in my neighborhood."

Now, Bennett is preparing to culminate the year with her own 2013 Artist-in-Residence Show, Nov. 1-3 and 5-7, at the arboretum's Vollmer Center, 4915 Greenspring Ave., with an opening reception Nov. 1. The show, featuring 30 of her paintings, is free and open to the public.

But those who come expecting to see nature painting will be in for a surprise. In addition to painting nature, Bennett is also a "live-event" artist, who is often hired to do impressionistic paintings in real time — "as they happen," she said — at weddings, birthday parties and other events around the region.

She first came to the attention of Cylburn Arboretum officials when she painted "live" during a Solstice in the City event on the grounds in June 2012.

"It's like plein air (open air painting), except it's about people. I've always liked painting people more than landscapes," said Bennett, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore, and refers to herself as a fine art painter on her website,

She also has a degree in physics from Reed College in Portland, Ore. Her father, Vann Bennett, is a former professor of biology at Johns Hopkins University, who now works for Duke University.

In living color

As a live-event artist, Bennett has painted everything from her grandmother's 96th birthday party to a client's 40th birthday party.

"They're going to hang it up in their house," she said.

Live-event painting strikes a chord with customers, Bennett said.

"People love it," she said. "They really like seeing me paint and they like seeing the painting happen. They like finding themselves in the painting."

Starting an annual artist-in-residence program not only brings prestige to the artist, but helps Cylburn Arboretum market itself as a destination for artists and art lovers, said Lynda McClary, executive director of the arboretum.

"Being associated with art, that's the exposure for us," McClary said. She called it "adding to our cachet," and noted that city horticulturists have "transformed" the arboretum in the three years since it was closed in 2008 for a year for construction of a visitors center.

McClary said the arboretum is part of the Walters Art Museum's Art Walk, and that the website has come to take photos.

"They called us," she said.