Spy Profile: Michael Fiorentino at Sultana’s Helm


The Chestertown Spy sat down this week with new Sultana helmsman Michael Fiorentino.

Fiorentino, a New York native and recent captain of the Lady Maryland, was hired by Sultana Education Foundation in January after Tanya Banks-Christensen stepped down following seven years of award-winning leadership at Sultana’s helm.

Fiorentino has a 500-ton Master of Oceans license and has spent the last eight years sailing the Chesapeake Bay, along with four years of teaching in the prestigious Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore.

He also has an extensive background in marine carpentry. He studied at the International Yacht Restoration School in Rhode Island among others, and describes his transition from traditional carpentry to marine, and finally into sailing tall ships.

The new captain is excited about exploring different parts of the Bay, experiencing a new ship, and becoming a part of Sultana Educational Foundation’s expansive teaching mission. He’s familiar with Chestertown from several Downrigging Weekends, has family here, and loves the area,

He’s been out on Sultana, “learning the ropes” from Banks-Christensen since March and is now readying for Sultana Education Foundation’s busy summer sailing season.

Here, the new Sultana captain describes his journey to the Eastern Shore.

Carol Minarick’s Art at the Academy is Definitely Not a Series


With the floor to ceiling canvasses of Easton resident Carol Minarick’s new exhibition at the Academy Art Museum providing an intimate, at times moving, journey into the artist’s interests, worries, humor, and love of materials, it is tempting for a viewer to assume this must be an organized series on the part of the artist.

But Minarick, predicting that kind of impulse on the part of her audience, cleverly preempts that by entitling her show, “Beowulf: A Series That Is Not A Series”. While there might be a bit of wordplay in that title, another one of the artist’s many fascinations, it does allow the viewer a certain liberation in viewing her work without seeking themes. Not unlike one’s own consciousness, her images drift from the profound to the superficial, using raw materials, from paper to stone, to highlight the randomness of human thought and expression.

In her interview with the Spy, Carol Minarick talks about her intent, or lack thereof, with the fifty-five panels on display, and selects a few of them to discuss the nature of her work.

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Carol Minarick
Beowulf: A Series That Is Not A Series
April 18 – July 19, 2015
Academy Art Museum, Easton


Out and About (Sort Of): Changing for the Worse by Howard Freedlander


Rehoboth Beach, Delaware has been a wonderful vacation venue for members of our family for more than 60 years. The allure is diminishing.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.36.28 AMLike Sussex County, in which it is located, growth and more growth seem to be the guiding planning principles. As I wrote more than four months ago complaining about the ugly transformation of Middletown, DE in New Castle County, I see only commercial and residential development gone awry, seemingly unchecked, in our once favorite beach town.

Build and they will come. That seems to be the mantra.

My wife and I spent three days in Rehoboth Beach last week, finding ourselves incredulous about the number of people on the beach in early May and the number of cars on Route 1 leading into and out of this beach city. The shopping outlets continue to be immensely popular in a state already popular for its lack of a sales tax. Traffic in the summer months is horrendous.

Since this is my second rant about runaway development in the First State, readers may conclude that I am anti-development, anti-change and just plain cranky about our neighbor to the north. Not so.

I simply see no planned development, no thoughtful strategy. Farmland continues to vanish in the face of commercial and residential development. Does anyone care?

Rehoboth Beach has always been special to our family. We feel comfortable there. We have celebrated numerous special occasions at this beach resort. And it is so convenient to Easton.

Our new plan is this: visit Rehoboth Beach only in the fall and early spring. That’s too bad.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and journalism and a master of science  degree in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College.

It’s Small Wonder by George Merrill


I believe that children have, if human beings can be said to have one at all, a default position. It returns naturally to attitudes of awe and wonder. This is why children bring so much joy to their parents and grandparents; through them we vicariously live the awe and wonder we once knew in that brief one-sixth of our lifespan we called our childhood. It happens, I suspect because most everything a child engages in is a first. First’s are always memorable and elicit a level of excitement leftovers don’t. We older folk of course experience awe and wonder, but because we’re often bogged down with the “same old” we tend to be more discriminating and less spontaneous about recognizing what’s wondrous and awesome.

I discovered wonder recently: it was, as they say, totally awesome.

I was at Grandparent’s Day recently at the Seventh District Elementary School in Baltimore Country where two of my grandchildren attend. There were more grandparents there than children. The school was a multigenerational zoo.

I’ve watched documentaries of apiaries. You see hundreds of bees, all squirming and wiggling this way and that, endlessly buzzing and all the while performing the particular tasks for which providence has equipped them. The trick is in knowing which bee is doing what. It was like that with the kids. Like beehives, the activity seemed chaotic but was definitely informed by an invisible intelligence.

Granddaughter Hildry’s third grade had arranged for grandparents to join in discussing student class projects about inventions. The children had researched the history of common household items like radios, cameras, telephones and washing machines. The event was staged like show and tell where a student shows an object and then tells you what he knows about it. One child showed us a rotary phone and told us about Alexander Graham Bell. Children heard from some grandparents about party lines, where families shared access to the same telephone line. Another child showed old phonograph records. We also saw pushbutton phones and one of the first transistor radios. I told the class that in 1945 I had a crystal set (which I described) that actually received radio broadcasts. They appeared unimpressed. One student researcher on cameras said that when Kodak issued its first Box Cameras their use was prohibited on beaches. One child researched the history of washing machines, gave a brief history and told us they were too big and heavy for him to bring one to show. One grandmother allowed as to how her hair once caught in an old machine’s ringer. Her hair had to be cut loose to free her. That thought generated considerable awe among the children.

Scan 1

Granddaughter Winnie is in the fifth grade. The children were assigned riddles to answer. The children divided into two groups. One group made up the riddles. The other guessed them.

Winnie’s team invented this riddle:

It’s a cat not a pet,
It has fur but no hair,
It likes to play but not with you
What is it?

I thought Winnie would be a grandparent herself before I’d ever figure it out.

The young minds were ingenious in constructing the riddles, and the joy in their faces was palpable as they collectively attempted figured out the answers. Winnie’s team read their riddle.

As she read, the other group’s faces grew intense; brows knitted, mouths pursed, lips pressed tightly, some heads rising enquiringly, other heads falling in concentration. Like a litter of pups, the kids moved and nudged each other, while figuring things out. Heads would shake, no; then some nodded, yes, hesitantly. Then, as one or two children got it, I saw light appear in the children’s eyes the way neon tubes, when first turned on, flicker before they fully illuminate. I was witnessing the human soul’s equivalent of a nuclear reaction. It was like a bolt of atomic energy had been released in their bodies, exiting through their faces, especially through their eyes that sparkled with irrepressible delight. The children were experiencing the exhilaration and pure joy of discovery, the sheer wonder of engaging their minds with a mystery while struggling to understand its meaning.

When the psalmist wrote how the awe of God is the beginning of wisdom I suspect he had children in mind. The psalmist is alluding to the wisdom in spirituality that invites our awe, arouses our wonder and brings us joy. Another way of saying it is that viable spirituality enthuses. The root meaning of the word “enthusiasm” means to be “in God,” to be excited in finding the meaning in the small mysteries that life presents us with daily. It’s the pure joy that’s available to young and old. It’s just easier for kids. They have the advantage of confronting so many novel situations. Novelty whets our curiosity.

After the classes, grandparents and children went to the book fair to buy books. My grandchildren enjoy reading, so we bought a number of books. And speaking of awe, I had no idea children’s books had become so expensive. I wondered why.

By the way, the answer to Winnie’s riddle: a lion.

Poetry Pays Off: Alexander Vidiani Wins WC $63,000 Kerr Prize


A Washington College senior who spent four years honing his skills as a poet has won the largest student literary prize in the nation, the Sophie Kerr Prize, this year worth $62,900.

Alexander Viviandi hugging a finalist as his name is announced.

Alexander Vidiani hugs a finalist as his name is announced.

Alexander R. Vidiani, who grew up in the Hunt Valley suburbs north of Baltimore, was named the Sophie Kerr winner Friday evening, May 15, on the Washington College campus, at an event where he and five other finalists for the Prize read from their work. As specified by the will of benefactor Sophie Kerr at her death in 1965, each year the English Department faculty at the historic liberal arts school awards the Prize to the graduating senior who, in their judgment, shows the most literary talent and promise. This year the professors reviewed 25 writing portfolios submitted by Prize hopefuls before selecting six finalists and ultimately bestowing the cash prize on Vidiani. The other 2015 finalists for the Sophie Kerr Prize are Julia D. Armstrong, Valerie A. Dunn, Ariel J. Jicha, Paige Kube, and Sydney I. Sznajder.

Jehanne Dubrow, a poet who directs the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, says Vidiani’s talent was clear when he enrolled in her introductory creative writing course his freshman year. “He had an incredible ear for the music of poetry, he just needed to learn how to be disciplined about  doing the work.  Once we talked about how talented he was and where he could take that talent, he became one of our most dedicated students. He will revise a poem 100 times or more if needed. He’s the finest student poet I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my seven years here at the College.”

Vidiani’s prize portfolio is filled with poems about loss, masculinity, fatherhood and the way we use language to connect with one another. His subject matter was inspired in part by the work of poet and memoirist Nick Flynn, who came to Washington College to read and talk with students in March 2012. Vidiani, still a freshman, delved into Flynn’s work, including his debut poetry collection, Some Ether, which focused on family trauma and relationships. It inspired Vidiani to move on to weightier subjects in his own writing.

“Alex’s poems come out of the elegaic tradition, which seeks to transform mourning into memory and melancholy into monument,” says Washington College English professor James Hall, who was Vidiani’s advisor for his senior thesis (“Masculinity and Male Paternity in Contemporary American Poetry: Why Fathers Matter”).  “He gives form to feeling, and transforms the particular into the universal. Alex has discovered that poetry offers liberating forces for difficult subjects.”

English Department chair Kathryn Moncrief adds that the jury found Vidiani’s portfolio to be “beautifully crafted and polished, and tightly edited. It felt like the beginning of a book manuscript. We could see the book this could become in a few years,” she says.

A graduate of Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, Vidiani majored in English with a minor in creative writing and served as poetry editor of the student-run literary magazine The Collegian while at Washington College. Last summer he interned with the poetry editor of Summerset Review, Meredith Davies Hadaway, and he was recently named a senior poetry reader for the national literary and arts journal Cherry Tree, published by the Rose O’Neill Literary House. Two of his poems will be published soon in respected online publications, Cleaver Magazine and the independent journal Juked. This fall, Vidiani plans to enter the MFA program in poetry at the University of Maryland, where he has been awarded a Teaching Assistantship.

Mid-Shore Lives: Eddie Cutts and the Inheritance of Design and Craft


Eddie Cutts lacks no self-awareness that he and his brother Ronnie grew up in the house of brilliant, if eccentric father. Self-taught and obsessed with design and craftsmanship, Ed Cutts, Sr. broke away early from Long Island and took his young family to Oxford fifty years ago to establish Cutts and Case to pursue those passions. Within a decade, Cutts, Sr. had established himself as one of the great wooden boat builders of his era.

It is never a given in any family with such an intense intellectual and engineering foundation that the children would have the genetic gene pool, or the desire, to follow a father’s footsteps. And yet both Eddie and Ronnie never thought of a life without boats. Taken under their father’s wings early and often, both boys not only provided the manual labor required in the boat business, but were quickly brought into decisions of design with some of the leading engineers of the day.

In his interview with the Spy, Eddie Cotts recalls the inheritance of design and craft from his father, the impact it has had on he and his brother, and the fundamentals of wooden boat building that continue at Cutts and Case to this day.

Philanthropy Report: Keeping the Mainstay Forever with Damon Bradley


If there was a scorecard that judged Kent County charitable organizations on management, mission, long-term strategic planning, as well as the commitment levels of board members and staff, there would be little doubt that the Mainstay in Rock Hall would be in the top three in the region.

For two decades, the Mainstay has done almost everything the “right” way since director and founder Tom McHugh started the music venue after retiring from Vassar College. With a perfect balance of the right kind of performers, physical space, volunteers, and simply a lot of downright fun, McHugh and the board of directors of Mainstay have made this Rock Hall organization one of the most respected on the Eastern Shore.

That “poster boy” status was recently challenged with the announcement that McHugh would make good on his repeated threats to retire this year. And, as a result, The Mainstay board had to think twice about keeping its doors open without the charismatic Irishman at the helm.

To the credit of the directors and a small handful of Mainstay’s closest friends, after a long study phase, a decision was made to continue, Tom or no Tom, for the love of music and the Rock Hall community. But what was the cost of that decision?

It turned out to be about a quarter of a million dollars. That was the extra revenue needed to keep Mainstay going over the next five years, pay a new executive director, and buy enough time for the organization to modify their business model to expand programming to attract new audiences and revenue streams as musical tastes changes in American society.

One of the key players in guiding the Mainstay into the “Tom-less” era has been Damon Bradley. No stranger to strategic plans and fundraising, given his highly respected role as headmaster of Washington’s prestigious Landon School for fourteen years, Bradley spoke to the Spy about keeping the Mainstay forever with its first-ever capital campaign.

Tea Party Alert: Redcoats Banned from Being Thrown off Sultana – What?


If you are a fan of Tea Party traditions—and we are—your tea might not be as bracing this year as last. Word from on high, possibly the ghostly wrath of King George III’s himself, has fired a 12-pound cannonball through the mainsail of our festivities. And we’re left a ragged hole in our fantasy.

No more British seaman to be thrown off the Sultana! No more, I tell ya.

The insurance company underwriting Sultana is now forbidding the hurling of bodies from the vessel during the Tea Party reenactment. (We would have liked to have seen those actuarial tables).

While the wonderful Sultana Educational Foundation is not to blame—they have to walk the plank—the Spy is investigating whether or not the insurance underwriters have current ties to the United Kingdom or any affiliation with what we might call “revenge underwriting” organizations similar to the U.S. Weather Service’s attempt to censure Punxsutawney Phil from appearing above ground during the first day of Spring.

The Spy is also trying to find out if individuals wanting to be heaved from the deck of the Sultana could sign some sort of waiver, complete with a wax seal, drop of blood (and a map of the Northwest Passage on the other side).

Sadly, it seems that sometimes the world can be made too safe for us, forcing artistic spontaneity into the style still life of a bell jar.

Surely a “redcoat overboard” rider clause can be inserted into the insurance contract. Part of freedom is the allowance for gleefully leaping off a ship with a bale of tea, damn the actuarial tables.

Avast. We’ve always wanted to say that. Or is it “Divest?”

Sophie Kerr Comes Home


For almost half a century, Washington College’s Sophie Kerr Prize has been awarded to a graduating senior exhibiting “the most ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor.”

The prize has been a highlight of every graduation weekend except for the last four when it was relocated to New York City and Baltimore to attract a larger audience.

This Friday, the $63,000 prize will return to the campus and community.

The Sophie Kerr Prize is the largest literary prize of its kind in the U.S., besting even the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

An Eastern Shore native—she was from Denton—Sophie Kerr found great success in writing fiction, editing many popular magazines and publishing hundreds of short stories, 23 novels, poems and a Broadway play.

In 1942, Washington College gave two honorary degrees to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its co-education—one to Eleanor Roosevelt and the other to Sophie Kerr.

Sophie Kerr

Sophie Kerr

Although she went to Hood College (and the University of Vermont), Kerr decided to leave the majority of her estate to Washington College with an iron-clad directive to give half of its yearly income to a graduating senior with literary talent, and half to fund scholarships, student publications and a reading series given by renowned and emerging writers.

In this video, English Department and Sophie Kerr Committee Chairman Kate Moncrief, talks about the prize, what it means to the College, the student, and to her.

Dr. Moncrief also invites everyone to the award ceremony taking place on Friday, May 15at 7:00 p.m. at the Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts at Washington College.  This year’s winner will be announced by honored guest and 1982 Sophie Kerr winner Peter Turchi after a reading by all finalists.

“This really is a campus and greater community celebration,” Moncrief said. “We extend an invitation to everyone to share this exciting moment.”