Review: Jeffrey Kent and Warren Lyons at the Kohl by Mary McCoy

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A century and a half after the Civil War and almost fifty years after the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights Marches, issues of race still chafe at the American soul. With candor and exhilarating compassion, “Raw Nerves: Homage and Provocation,” on view through December 5 at Washington College’s Kohl Gallery, probes into the ongoing process of healing those wounds.

Warren Lyons, “Harriet Tubman – Moses,” 72 x 48 inches, oil and mixed media on canvas

The show presents the work of two African-American artists, Jeffrey Kent of Baltimore and Warren Lyons who lives and works on Staten Island. It’s a stimulating juxtaposition. Kent, the younger of the two, creates mixed media paintings and sculptures full of color, activity and iconic images from the slave era to present. Lyons’s work is far more introspective and meditative. A sampling of six towering portraits from a larger suite begun more than 30 years ago, his paintings are complex studies that look deep into the souls of prominent African- American leaders from Sojourner Truth to John Coltrane.

Kent’s work has the look of protest art but is far more subtle and complex. Strikingly raw and visceral, it abounds with interconnected references to African-American history and sets the stage for an examination of the state of present-day civil rights issues. Much of his concern lies in how quickly the ideals and impetus behind civil rights have faded. It’s a message urging self-reflection that he teasingly underscores by reversing the lettering in some of his paintings so that it only reads clearly when seen in a mirror.

Blackface minstrels and slaves bearing bales of cotton inhabit his bold, cartoonish paintings along with collaged magazine photos of Civil Rights marchers, some of whom wear rose-tinted glasses. His sculptures are made with found objects gathered for their biting significance. In a reference to “whites only” facilities, he sheathed a vintage water fountain in gilt. To procure the cotton actually picked by slaves that appears in several of his works, he hunted down a set of 19th

Disturbed by the support given by African-American church groups to California’s ill- fated Proposition 8

Jeffrey Kent, “Can't Touch This,” 48 x 14.5 x 14.5 inches, 1959 Sunroc water fountain, gold  leaf, Ball Mason jar

Jeffrey Kent, “Can’t Touch This,” 48 x 14.5 x 14.5 inches, 1959 Sunroc water fountain, gold
leaf, Ball Mason jar

banning same-sex marriage, Kent created a series of works in which haloed but blindfolded activists holding Prop 8 placards are shown as blackface buffoons, surrounded by clumps of actual slave-picked cotton. Behind them looms a broad-shouldered black man hefting a bale of cotton, an ancestor whose presence begs the question: who better should know about restricted civil rights than African-Americans?

Lyons’s portraits seem quiet and simple by comparison, but this impression evaporates as you look closer. Painting slowly and deliberately in stark black and white, he builds layer upon layer until you can see whole worlds within each face. He may spend several years on a portrait, working from several different photographs and reading biographical materials extensively to learn as much as he can about all aspects of each person’s work and personality. -century chairs upholstered with cotton.

In a sense, he is building on an art historical premise, that of Cezanne and the Cubists who painted objects and scenes from many angles simultaneously. His portrait, “John Coltrane – The Wise One” presents this seminal musician with eyes closed and mouth pursed almost as if he’s playing an introspective tune on an invisible saxophone. His face shimmers and shifts as curving facets reveal pain, patience, compassion, and even what seem to be passages of music itself. Repeating forms at Coltrane’s ear appear like reverberations, while just above his temple are forms that look almost like human figures, one of them perhaps reaching out to beat a drum.

Lyons has lived parallel lives as an artist and a clinical social worker and educator working with troubled families. He likens his painting method to the psychological process of exploring deeper and deeper layers of the human mind. Just as understanding is gained through examination of influences going back not just to childhood, but through multiple generations, his paintings trace the impact of centuries of cultural factors on these prominent African-Americans.

Jeffrey Kent, “From That to This,” 41.5 x 40 inches, acrylic, collage and slave-picked cotton  on canvas

Jeffrey Kent, “From That to This,” 41.5 x 40 inches, acrylic, collage and slave-picked cotton
on canvas

In “Harriet Tubman – Moses,” the fluid lines that define the shadowy contours of her face swirl away above her head into a kind of abstract landscape, perhaps the trails and rivers escaping slaves followed as they journeyed north in search of freedom. The guiding light of their night journeys, the moon, appears above her shoulder, full of unidentifiable textured shapes, like the contours of the unknown future. Hovering in front of her heart is an egg, a universal symbol of potential and new beginnings, while above it is a single drop of red.

This bright red appears as sudden, small details in each of Lyons’s portraits. Singing out against the strongly modeled black and white paint, an arc of red may peek over the curve of a brow or the nape of a neck. Often indicative of danger or anger, in Lyons’s paintings, it reads instead as an enlivening presence shared from one painting to the next, just as human beings share the same red blood regardless of skin color.

Strikingly empathetic and deeply moving, the faces Lyons paints are compressed landscapes of emotion, experience, history and insight. In these people’s eyes, the inner wisdom born of courageous searching for fairness and truth is patently evident. This is precisely the kind of searching that Kent’s work calls for. Despite their different approaches, the work of both artists is clearly focused on the challenge we each face to investigate, rather than repress, our mostly deeply held feelings about race, sexuality and all forms of social division, for only compassionate understanding can heal the wounds afflicting our society.

 

Karen Emerson: Keeping History Alive at the Historical Society of Kent County

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The Spy recently caught up with Karen Emerson, the new executive director at the Historical Society of Kent County.

Emerson discusses the upcoming Halloween Ghost Walk (Friday the 24th) sponsored by the Society, how the move from the Geddes-Piper House to the Bordley Building on High Street has included the transfer of the organization’s library, the possibility of having to sell the Geddes-Piper House, success of recent fund raising efforts, and an appeal for volunteers, and her hopes for the future.

She also hopes to enhance the Society’s African American, women and Hispanic history sections, remarking that much local history will be lost unless a continued effort is made by volunteers and researchers.

An Elsworthy Request: A Boat and a Wedding by Sarah Meekins Elliott

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Editor Note: The Spy was told a few weeks ago about a unique request made to the Echo Hill Outdoor School. While the request was rather routine – the need to use one of the school’s boats for a wedding in October – the boat requested and the unique story behind it was anything but routine and worthy of a wider audience with permission from EHOS and the author. 

I am the granddaughter of the late Norris O. Lewis who owned and captained the Elsworth for a time during the 1970s.

The Elsworth has long been a source of pride for my family. By the time I was born in the early 1980s, the boat had long been sold, but I grew up listening to legendary stories about my grandfather and the Elsworth. All of the men in my mother’s family (including my father) worked on the boat at some point during my grandfather’s captainship.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 8.31.06 AM

Norris Lewis

All of the women and grandchildren of the family sailed onboard during skipjack races. There were stories of family members reaching out to touch the Sandy Point Lighthouse as my grandfather swiftly maneuvered the final winning turn of a skipjack race at Chesapeake Appreciation Days. There were tales of monumental oyster harvests and skillful navigation through dense fog and whiteout weather conditions. There were recollections of my grandfather standing stoically behind the ship’s wheel with icicles hanging from his whiskers during a day of hard winter’s work. These stories and so many more were guaranteed to resurface over holiday meals and during times when spirits needed uplifting. Over time, memories of the Elsworth became the thread that tied my mother’s family together as all seven siblings grew older and went their separate ways.

Although my family members always regarded the Elsworth in a romantic sense, my grandfather saw the Elsworth simply as a way of life. Skipjacks were in his blood. His father and each of his brothers owned and captained (and sometimes helped build) skipjacks throughout their lifetimes. Sadly, only the Elsworth and the Martha Lewis (my great grandfather’s skipjack) remain in existence to this day. As an aging man, my grandfather parted with the Elsworth, passing the torch to the next captain. He did so with a heavy heart. His greatest fear was that the Elsworth would find her fate in what he called the “Tilghman Island Graveyard.” It was there where he saw far too many skipjacks “go to die” during his lifetime.

My grandfather could not have been happier when he learned that the Elsworth was entrusted to the Echo Hill Outdoor School in the 1980s. He regarded Echo Hill not only as a safe haven for the Elsworth, but also as a terrific opportunity for the vessel to teach environmental respect to future generations.

You see, my grandfather did not go to high school, let alone college. When he was growing up, the need for immediate family outcome far outweighed the need for formal education. He learned about the environment not through a textbook but through experience and developed an unparalleled sense of respect and understanding of the world

The Elsworth

The Elsworth

around him. In his later years, as I began to pursue college degrees in biology and environmental marine science, I would discuss various topics with him that I had learned about in a college classroom. He would often smile to himself, pleased to finally learn the name of something that he already understood all too well. He would then proceed to teach me a thing or two about what I had just learned in school. Learning about the environment was my grandfather’s passion, and he felt honored that the Elsworth would be used as a tool to reach out to youth for that very same purpose.

My grandfather passed away ten years ago last January. At the time, I had been dating a young man named David for several years (eight to be exact). Coming from a waterman’s family himself, David was always fascinated by my grandfather’s stories and often said that he wished he could have had a chance to experience the Elsworth under the helm of Capt Lewis. David and I have remained together for 18 years now. We began dating in middle school and have been inseparable ever since. Seven years ago, he took me on a surprise trip to the Chestertown area and we “just happened” to end up sitting together next to the Elsworth. As I sat on the dock with tears in my eyes in remembrance of my grandfather, David proposed marriage and I quickly accepted. Unfortunately, some health related issues delayed our nuptials for a few years but we are finally ready to tie the knot!

David and I can think of no better way to honor our love, our family, and our Chesapeake heritage than by exchanging our long awaited vows aboard the Elsworth.*

The author with new husband David

The author with husband David Elliott

 

* The wedding took place on a perfect Eastern Shore day last Saturday.

The Elsworth was purchased by Echo Hill Outdoor School in 1988. In addition to using it in the school’s summer Explore Program, it commercially dredged for oysters until 1996 when EHOS engaged in a major restoration.

Spy Chat: Kristen Greenaway on Taking the Helm at CBMM

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Very few nonprofit leadership roles on the Eastern Shore can match the extraordinary duties and responsibilities of the Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. And very few of these institutions have had more curiosity about their new leader coming to town than CBMM’s newly-appointed Kristen Greenaway.

The Spy found out pretty quickly during our chat last week in Ms. Greenaway’s office why this kiwi buzz was circulating through the Mid-Shore.

A native New Zealander, Kristen Greenaway comes to the Eastern Shore in an almost story book way. With nonprofit executive positions with Cambridge University, the Sally Ride Foundation, and Duke University, CBMM’s new leader found exceptional executive opportunities in remarkably different landscapes in the world, but the glue keeping this sojourn together was her love and passion for boats.

In her first Spy interview, Kristen links the past with her recent appointment at the museum, and offers a “hit the ground running” priority list that seems like a locomotive leaving the station.

WC’s Sandbox: Microbial Art Fascinates and Instructs

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The Spy caught up with scientist and artist Selin Balci at Sandbox Studio last week to hear her describe her microbial growth art project. Balci, a visiting lecturer in studio art at Washington College, sees her work as referencing “the fundamental, underlying social dilemmas and principles of our existence in an effort to understand and highlight social issues.”

Interestingly, the striking images in the exhibit are not photographs. They are actual microbial growths painted onto paper, allowed to propagate, then terminated when Balci feels that the image has achieved optimum interest.

Balci’s exhibit will be up until October 24.

If you have not attended one of Sandbox’s events, you are missing a pioneering showcase for artists who embrace the natural environment, science and art in novel ways to approach problem solving. Distinguished artists visit each year to participate in the Studio’s projects and offer an opportunity for all of us to experience this new visionary quest to see our natural world differently, perhaps even to shock us into bridging our sense of separateness from it.

Stay current with Sandbox Studio projects by checking their Facebook page: Sandbox Initiative.

Sandbox Studio, 107 South Cross Street.

 

 

Upward Bound 50 Years Later with Eastern Shore’s Stan Salett

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A few months ago, in a large conference room at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., there was a small celebration of the 50th anniversary of one of the federal government’s most popular and productive social programs. Conceived during President Lyndon Johnson’s epic war on poverty in 1964, the Upward Bound program has since then provided critical support for over 2 million students coming from low-income families throughout the United States.

Partnering with institutions of higher education, Upward Bound provides critical pre-college preparation in math, science, literature, and foreign languages through tutoring, mentoring, work-study programs, and counseling services to kids (and now war veterans) to help them not only get into college but graduate as well.

It is also one of the few programs where there remains extraordinary bipartisan support for a federal education program. A rare accomplishment in Washington these days.

Upward Bound was the brainchild of education expert and Eastern Shore weekender Stan Salett. A mid-level appointee brought into the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Salett was asked to conceptualize a program that would directly involve colleges and universities in reducing long-term poverty through education opportunity. Salett’s memorandum was quickly embraced by Sargent Shriver, LBJ’s War on Poverty director, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Spy caught up with Stan last week in his kitchen to reminisce about the origins of Upward Bound and the necessity of continuing to give a critical leg up to those who seek an education.

This video is approximately six minutes in length

Election 2014 for State’s Attorney: Andrew Meehan vs. Harris Murphy

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With Robert Strong stepping down as State’s Attorney in Kent County after fourteen years in office, one of County’s most important jobs is up for grabs come this November.

As the primary legal representative for Kent County, the State’s Attorney manages all criminal cases where the determination of guilt or innocence are made in both the District and Circuit Court. The impact of this job is keenly felt in a small community.

Two very different men have entered the race with two very different backgrounds. Andrew Meehan, the Democrat in the race, is from the Washington DC suburbs, with degrees from the UVA and Washington & Lee Law School. Harris Murphy, running as a Republicans, is a product of Baltimore’s suburbs, Washington College, and Law School at the University of Baltimore. Meehan has focused mostly on private practice in both Maryland and Virginia while Murphy has been assistant Public Defender in Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties for over ten years.

In their Spy interviews, both Andrew and Harris talk about the role of the State’s Attorney For Kent County, issues related to soft and hard drugs, sentencing, and their approach for victims, criminals and Maryland’s judicial system.

The Democrat:
Andrew Meehan

The Republican
Harris Murphy

The Conowingo: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation Weighs in

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There is no other organization in the state of Maryland, nor the Mid-Atlantic region for that matter, that has put more of its reputation on the line than the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) to protect the Chesapeake Bay. The 40 years old nonprofit conservation group, which now has an operating budget of over $20 million, has deployed its significant resources to advocate for, as well as set public policy, to ensure the Bay’s survival, earning the respect and support of many in the multistate Bay region.

And yet despite this extraordinary nongovernmental effort, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has sometimes been accused as being too soft on both regulation and mitigation solutions for special constituencies. This concern has also included the Exelon Corporation, (owner of the Conowingo Dam and a CBF corporate donor), and the company’s renewal process of the dam’s operating license in September of this year.

But as CBF’s Senior Water Quality Scientist Dr. Beth McGee points out in her interview with the Spy, it is ultimately science that drives the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s water protection policies, including the Conowingo Dam relicensing process and permitting. And that science data, including the preliminary assessment by the Corps of Engineers study on water quality of the Lower Susquehanna River and the Dam during catastrophic storms, is providing new answers on its long-term risk to the Bay and how this best to mitigate that danger over the next decade.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length

Stranded Boaters Avoid High Costs with Tow Insurance

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Sea Tow Annapolis’s 29-foot long Sea-Cure boasts 900 feet of rope, two water pumps, fuel cans, buoys and life preserves to assist in whatever situation arises on September 24 at the Watergate Village docks in Annapolis, Maryland. Capital News Service photo by Dylan Moroses

Sea Tow Annapolis’s 29-foot long Sea-Cure boasts 900 feet of rope, two water pumps, fuel cans, buoys and life preserves to assist in whatever situation arises on September 24 at the Watergate Village docks in Annapolis, Maryland. Capital News Service photo by Dylan Moroses

Boats will always break down for one reason or another, but finding a friendly tow to shore is not a certainty.

Maryland autumn weather harbors spells of unpredictable storms and winds that cause people on the water worry at the end of boating season, more so than in the summer months when the conditions are more consistent, said BoatUS Annapolis Capt. Ham Gale.

“With the weather picking up now, there’s increased apprehension when boaters are left out on the water; people want service faster,” Gale said. “People who would wait four hours for their friend to tow them back to shore in the summer now start to worry if they are waiting for two hours.”

Some emergencies – like a sinking ship – require the U.S. Coast Guard or local maritime authorities, but other incidents where the boat and passengers are safe are often taken care of by the two biggest names in boat towing, Sea Tow and BoatUS.

Boaters could be looking at monstrous costs if they are stranded safely on their boat without a tow service membership, said Adam Wheeler, vice president and director of towing for BoatUS, a corporation headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, that provides boat safety services, including boat insurance and tow service.

“The average tow length is about three to four hours,” Wheeler said. “If you’re not a member of a service like ours, then you would get charged at what is called the ‘public rate,’ which ranges from anywhere between $200 to $300 per hour.”

The most popular tow service memberships are available for less than $200 annually from BoatUS or Sea Tow, and cover any incidents for the year, similar to AAA’s Roadside Assistance service.

Capt. Dave DuVall owns Sea Tow’s Central Chesapeake Maryland franchise in Annapolis, the longest-running location nationally for that boat service corporation, which is based in Southold, New York.

“Instantaneously, yes, it’s more financially rewarding to tow a non-member,” DuVall said. “In the long run, I get paid to provide a service to my members in advance. So if I don’t provide that service to members, suddenly the word gets out and all of a sudden the membership falls. If the membership falls, I lose money that way.”

Capt. Dave Duvall checks his GPS systems and listens in on a potential call for service in the pilothouse of the Sea-Cure at the Watergate Village docks in Annapolis, Maryland, on September 24. Capital News Service photo by Dylan Moroses

Capt. Dave Duvall checks his GPS systems and listens in on a potential call for service in the pilothouse of the Sea-Cure at the Watergate Village docks in Annapolis, Maryland, on September 24. Capital News Service photo by Dylan Moroses

Unfortunately for non-members, tow services like Sea Tow and their rival company, BoatUS, are required to give preference to their paying customers, which means they can divert from assisting a non-member in the middle of travel to help someone who subscribes to their service, leaving them stranded at sea for longer, DuVall said.

These corporations developed a network for the near coastal waters, providing tow service to boaters in distress and helping the U.S. Coast Guard, state and local maritime authorities in certain emergency situations.

DuVall equipped his fleet to respond to most emergencies and will assist the Coast Guard in certain situations, but describes it as a non-emergency tow service that responds to calls commonly dealing with some type of engine failure on recreational vessels.

“It truly is an on-call business,” DuVall said. “You seldom know until you answer the phone what you got, and even then, you may not know until you actually see it.”

Most of Sea Tow’s six Annapolis boat captains live within a mile of their dock behind the Watergate Village, and someone is always at the boats, ready to respond.

Duvall and Gale, along with other boat service operators in the Bay area, took a course to become certified in proper search and rescue procedures, so that “the Coast Guard can actually believe what we’re telling them,” DuVall said.

Sea Tow assisted the Coast Guard getting their fleet into shallow waters until about three years ago, when they received their new 45-foot utility boats, which draw less water than the old 41-foot vessels, DuVall said.

Gale helped the Coast Guard in September 2013 when a vessel carrying about a dozen people hit a rock pile by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and began to sink. The Coast Guard rescued the people, but could not get a pump on the sinking boat and resorted to Gale’s resources to save the vessel. BoatUS Annapolis was able to salvage the boat and is still waiting on payment from the government for the job, Gale said.

The U.S. Coast Guard used to direct boaters without rescue memberships to tow companies on a rotating basis, but the policy changed in 1983.

They now send out a broadcast specifying the incident, providing tow companies a first-come, first-serve call for service – an unbiased, but inefficient system. Tow captains in the Chesapeake Bay area decided to develop their own system, said DuVall.

“In this area, tow captains got together years ago and formed The Maritime Towing and Assistance Association to figure out a way to handle the new Coast Guard policy, which we didn’t like,” DuVall said. “We came up with a way to work within the guidelines of the policy, but instead of everyone running on one job, we’d figure out who would provide the closest and best response, and probably the cheapest, depending on the situation.”

Sea Tow does not have as many members in the Chesapeake Bay area as BoatUS, therefore making it easier and faster for Sea Tow to respond to subscribers and non-members, DuVall said. BoatUS has about 500,000 members nationally, and Sea Tow did not provide membership numbers.

Sea Tow and BoatUS have dispatchers all over the country that utilize every means of communication possible, from VHF radio to cell phone, to ensure immediate response at any time, said Scott Croft, BoatUS Director of Public Relations.

DuVall once rescued a non-member in a vessel who was grounded in soft mud, requiring 2,500 feet of rope from a second boat and a kayak for the last 150 feet to save the person in distress. “I told him, ‘Don’t even think about getting out of that kayak, because you’ll be up to your waist in there and we’ll be pulling you out,’” DuVall said.

Boaters that believe they have coverage for towing through their boat insurance company could be misinformed when they return to the dock. “I’ve seen instances where a guy thinks he has all this coverage, and then he’s only got about $150,” DuVall said. “That doesn’t even pay for us to get out of the slip.”

While BoatUS and Sea Tow are corporate competitors, the local towboat captains from each service are aware of wasting resources and coordinate to avoid doing so, even at the expense of a potential customer.

“One of the worst things you can do is call both companies at the same time if you’re not a member and need service,” DuVall said. “We listen to each other, so if I hear them dispatching on the same call I’m dispatching my guys on, I call the other company and we both stand down. We can’t afford to send out two boats to one guy, especially if we’re busy on a weekend.”

By Dylan Moroses
Capital News Service