Adkins Arboretum 2009 Art Competition Exhibit On View Through March 27

In a show that is truly of the Eastern Shore, the Adkins Arboretum 2009 Art Competition celebrates the region’s distinct environment. There is a burning marsh, a flight of tundra swans lifting over a wooded creek, vultures paired in a wild aerial dance as they squabble over carrion, and even a sculpture made of curving stacks of empty clam shells.

The show is on view at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center through March 27. The public is invited to a reception to meet the artists on Saturday, February 28 from 5 to 7 p.m.

This year’s competition was juried by Donald A. McColl, Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Washington College, where he is Underwood Professor of Art History and the Director of the Kohl Art Gallery in the college’s soon-to-be-opened Gibson Center for the Arts.

In keeping with the show’s theme, Discovering the Native Landscapes of the Coastal Plain, McColl chose works specific to Delmarva’s natural environment, from paintings of familiar marshlands and forests to a sculpture called “Reliquary for an American Chestnut Tree.”

Resembling a container of holy relics, this work was constructed by Salisbury artist and philosophy professor James Hatley of local salvaged wood to honor a once common tree now all but extinct due to a fungus blight inadvertently imported from Asia. (The Arboretum is lucky to count at least one American chestnut sprout left hidden deep in its forest.)

McColl was impressed not only by the large number of entries in this annual competition, a total of 104, but also by their variety and overall quality. The 27 works he chose for the show include paintings in both oil and acrylic, watercolors, photographs, a collaged print and several sculptures. From these works, he chose a representational painting and an abstract photograph to receive the annual Leon Andrus Awards. Although he found it difficult to narrow his choice to just two winners, McColl wanted to award the prizes in different mediums and approaches.

His first-prize choice is Baltimore artist Elissa O’Loughlin’s Persimmons, Late Fall in Galestown, a small painting of a persimmon branch. In subtle hues of red and green opaque watercolor, it recalls the persimmons growing along the Arboretum’s forest trails.

“When I saw it, I thought, ‘I’ve got to give that painting an award,’” McColl said, “It’s just beautiful. It’s built up almost like a Flemish painting. The color layers are fantastic.”

After carefully considering several works—including Flight, a photo capturing the frenzied flock of birds rising over a stubbled field, by Burbank, CA, photographer Merelyn Davis, and a graceful pencil drawing of a woodland depression by Juliana Netschert, of Rockville, titled Peeper Pool Dried Up—McColl chose Woods Abstract to receive the second prize.

In this photograph by Ann Rohfling, of Bowie, the delicate veins in a rippled, warm brown surface, resembling bark, skin or handmade paper, hint at subtle shapes, perhaps the shadowy branches of trees.

“It’s mysterious,” said McColl. “I’d love to know what this is. The color is beautiful. It’s clearly based on bits of nature. It’s a real visual puzzle to parse out what’s there.”

This year’s show also inaugurates a new award: the Marion Price Award for Achievement in the Medium of Drawing or Printmaking, awarded by the Arboretum Art Committee. Given in honor of artist Marion Price, who initiated the Arboretum’s art exhibit series in 1998, this prize was awarded to Jody Primoff, of Greensboro, for her series of ink sketches titled Variations. In these five small drawings, Primoff’s fresh, energetic line work skillfully captures the character of wild grasses.

Supported in part by the Caroline County Council of Arts, this show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through March 27 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center, located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or for gallery hours.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.