Spy Chat: Writer Laura Lippman on Baltimore, Urban Values, and News


It says a lot about one of the country’s most popular crime writers that Laura Lippman decided to add Oxford on her new book tour. With most of her other events over the next few weeks booked in some of the East Coast’s largest cities, her return to the Eastern Shore last Monday evening at the invitation of our beloved Mystery Loves Company bookstore at Doc’s Sunset Grille is just one example of how fond she is of the Chesapeake region.

Another example has been Lippman’s lead character for her last three books, detective Tess Monaghan, a graduate of Washington College in Chestertown, who continues to use the Eastern Shore as a special getaway when not solving crimes on the Western Shore.

But Laura’s real love has always been Baltimore, which is the center of most of her stories, and where she has lived with her family and husband, writer David Simon, for decades. That tradition continues in her new book, “Lady in the Lake,” which tells the tale of two real-life Baltimore disappearances in the 1960s through the lens of lead character Maddie Schwartz, who probes these mysteries and the racial complexities related to these two crimes.

And Baltimore was on Laura Lippman’s mind when we met her at Doc’s. After a weekend when President Donald Trump took to Twitter to insult the city and people she loves, our conversation quickly turned to a discussion of urban life, urban values, and the role of newspapers and social media in contemporary society.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Mystery Loves Company bookstore and to purchase a copy of  “Lady in the Lake,” please go here. 

At the Academy: Open Mic Night Wednesdays


With all the good hustle and bustle of the Academy Art Museum’s nonstop art classes and significant exhibitions, it is sometimes easy not to notice the AAM’s other efforts to bring its Mid-Shore community together to enjoy the other arts like music.

One of those amazing programs is their one a month open mic night when local musicians gather in the museum’s auditorium on Monday evenings to perform and support each other.Directed by Ray Remesch, the AAM’s music specialist, as well as Christ Church of Easton’s Minister of Contemporary Music, the AAM’s open mic, offers a variety of performances, demonstrations, and presentations that taps into the region’s endless supply of talented artists.

The Spy’s Tori Paxon caught up with Ray a few weeks ago at the Academy to learn more.

This video is approximately minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here.

Spy at the Troika: Raoul Middleman and Wrestling with Art


Raoul Middleman’s personality is as colorful as his art.

That became vividly apparent in dual appearances at Plein Art Festival events Saturday evening: an interview and reception at the Troika Gallery, where 20 of his paintings are on display through Aug. 3, sandwiched around a film preview and question-and-answer adventure—you could call it performance-art storytelling—at the Avalon Theater.

Crusty Old Dude

Deservedly billed as “Legendary Artist” by the Troika Gallery, which sponsored the Avalon show and has represented him for 23 years, Middleman taught at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for 58 years until his retirement from teaching last month. His freewheeling, wide-ranging paintings are in the collection of, among others, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery/National Gallery of Art in Washington, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Academy of Design in New York.   

Middleman, 84, describes his approach to painting as “a wrestling match. . . . I start out with a vague idea of what I’m going to paint and then the brush, the application, takes over. That’s an exquisite moment. What I come up with is a surprise, even to me.”

“His personality and storytelling are inseparable from his brushstrokes and narrative art,” says one of his thousands of former Maryland Institute students, Liz Parks. (Full disclosure: My wife participated in our interview with Middleman, reminding him when he recalled his youthful days in Montana as a ranch hand (of sorts) that his student, then known as Ms. Goodman, dubbed him “the Sam Shepard of art,” after the late playwright known for his American West vernacular.

In a scene from an in-progress documentary on his career, titled simply “Middleman,” screened at the Avalon, we see the artist shopping at Lexington Market. (He’s Baltimorean through and through.) In the market for scaly models, Middleman chooses four fish to take to his home/studio. Not to be fried, baked or broiled. But they are served up raw in a seafood still life, similar to one in the window of the Troika right now. He arranges them around a couple of lemons, also purchased at Lexington Market, and slathers paint on the canvas as if filleting his catch. Then he changes his mind and reconfigures the scene.

His art has been described by critics as “messy and real,” reflecting the chaos of life and nature. If he has one particular muse, it’s “the super-funky Baltimore atmosphere,” citing filmmaker John Waters as a fellow-minded artist. 

He majored in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and hoped to become a writer until visiting a girlfriend in New Orleans who gently nudged him in the direction of art. Soon he was studying at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

“I could always draw,” he said, adding, “If someone suggests you should do something different and that doesn’t work out, then you have two asses to kick.” 

Like many artists in any field, Middleman declines to be confined to a single genre. Early on, he did Pop Art, which he gave up in pique over a dispute with a New York gallery owner. He turned to landscapes, about as far from Pop Art as you can get, and continued in landscape artistry periodically throughout his career. Several wreckage-of-nature paintings can be seen now at the Troika. For a time, at its height in the 1960s, he favored abstracts and later narrative paintings telling a story that could be re-interpreted by whomever beholds it. 

He likens his progression to Renaissance painter Bellini, whose earlier paintings Middleman calls “linear” in style. Later, Bellini moved closer to the approach of many of his students, among them Titian—more painterly, more sensual. “To some, Bellini’s earlier work is his best,” Middleman says. But time bends fashion and taste. And what once was deemed hip is later dismissed as ho-hum. And vice-versa.

Middleman has ridden that wave throughout his career as a painter, even drawing inspiration from former students, trying new styles.

To his son’s question, Middleman recalled that at one point in his career he was an Abstract Expressionist.

 “ ‘No you’re not, Dad,’ ” Middleman said. “You’re an Argumentative Expressionist.”

Apparently, the father agrees.

“Painting is an open question,” he says. “A good painting is kind of an argument. Whatever the artist may think it means, it may be something completely different to each viewer. So, there is no single right answer. Only questions.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

Plein Air Easton: East Meets West with Master Jove Wang


Given the abundance of local and regional participants in Plein Air Easton, it’s something hard to remember that the Plein Air movement is an international one. And someone who makes that undeniably clear is the presence of one of China’s most celebrated artists, master Jove Wang, on Goldsbrough Street the other day.

Professor, author, and award-winning Plein Air painter, Wang has devoted over thirty years to move his work beyond the technically proficient into a world more associated with the extension of his soul.

In fact, Jove feels that the best metaphor for his work is that of a symphony conductor that delicately alters the impressions of light and color on canvas similar to someone leading an orchestra to bring out the very best performance.

As the invitation of Betty Huang, artist and owner of Studio B in Easton, Jove Wang makes his first appearance at Plein Air Easton with a live demonstration at the Avalon Theater on Friday starting at 9 am followed by a reception at Studio B (where is work is exhibited) on Saturday.

The Spy talked to Jove with the help of Betty’s translation skills to understand his three decade approach to his art and life.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information and events like this with Plein Art Easton 2019 please go here.

Spy 7 Files a Report: Knightly Provides Night to Remember for Plein Air Easton


The 2019 Plein Air Easton Meet the Artists event over the weekend brought several hundred people to the historic Knightly estate on Leeds Creek off the Miles River. Alice Ryan received a warm standing ovation during dinner for hosting the event at her beautiful 81-acre farm and estate. 

Guests were invited to arrive a few hours early to wander around the estate and engage with the Plein Air artists who were pressed to complete their work by 7 PM. During the reception and dinner, guests were encouraged to purchase the just completed works and well before the evening concluded, the red “sold” tags were abundant.

This week-long annual event organized by the Avalon Foundation provides a remarkable opportunity to view artists at work and, of course, to enjoy art. But, remember, the message: The best way to ensure the future of Plein Air Easton and the Health of your Arts Community is to buy art!

For more information and a complete schedule for the week: www.pleinaireaston.com 


Four Poets and a Family Farm: Wendy Ingersoll Perry on “Walking the Sunken Boards”


For ten years, four Delaware poets, who collectively have had seven books published, and received five Delaware for the Arts grants, five Pushcart nominations, two “Best of the Net” nominations, and one new best poet award, descend on one Wendy Ingersoll Perry’s family farm not to far from Quaker Neck Landing near Chestertown.

During the summer weeks, the poets spend most of their day writing by the Chester River and use their evenings to read some of their day’s labor. It is one of the highlights of the year for these four friends who have formed a unique bond through the power of words and And last year, the four came up with the idea that this decade of material would make a fine book to honor the sense of place they have received from the Ingersoll family farm.

And just recently that book, entitled Walking the Sunken Boards by Linda Blaskey, Gail Braune Comorat, Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll, and Jane C. Miller, has been published with a book celebration set for the Bookplate in Chestertown on July 12 with an introduction from local writer Amanda Newell.

The Spy couldn’t resist finding out more about this unique project and sat down with Wendy before the kick-off event to get the lowdown and hear one of her poems.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information and to purchase the book please go here

Delmarva Review: Bodrum Hamam By Katherine Gekker


Author’s note: “During a recent trip to Turkey, I visited a traditional hamam. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The tenderness and intimacy of the visit surprised me and reminded me of having my face washed by my parents, something I had not thought of in decades. It also brought back memories of seeing their arms crossed after their deaths.”

Steam echoes off blue and yellow
tiles, rivulets stream down walls.
Roof’s oculus opens to Turkey’s hot sky.

We have this round room to ourselves.
We dip ladles into heated pools, then tepid,
like a Finnish sauna but inside, in summer.

My feet appear, disappear in clouds,
our red-checkered pestemals like
keffiyeh, like Arafat wore, wet as puddles.

A man enters. I lie down. He folds my hands
over my heart. He washes me with huge
towel-covered hands, suds fly everywhere,

like blowing bubbles. He and I laugh.
Then he washes my face – no one
has ever washed my face except my parents.

I remember crossing my mother’s hands
over her chest after the end, seeing my
father’s hands crossed by someone else.

My bones sharp against the tiles,
all liquids have escaped me. I’ve
never been so thirsty or so clean.

We dress to the muezzin’s afternoon call
to prayer. Outside, I hear seagulls,
smell the Aegean, then the Baltic.

You take photos of me at the hamam entrance.
Later I notice how sunken, how hollow-cheeked
I look, everything sucked out of me.


Poet Katherine Gekker is the author of “In Search of Warm Breathing Things” (Glass Lyre Press, 2019). In addition to “Delmarva Review,” her poems have been published in “Little Patuxent Review,” “Broadkill Review,” “Poetry South,” “Apple Valley Review,” and others. She has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Some of her poems have been set to music, including a collection “…To Cast a Shadow Again,” by composer Eric Ewazen, and a seasonal cycle of poems, “Chasing the Moon Down,” by composer Carson Cooman. She was born in Washington, D.C. When not writing, she practices piano.

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available at Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, and Amazon.com. An electronic edition is also sold at Amazon.com. The website is DelmarvaReview.org.

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RiverArts Curator Cindy Stafford on “Patterns of Eastern Shore Life”


Residents and visitors to the Eastern Shore love spending their time here because of the quality of life. Much of that joy comes from the patterns found in our natural surroundings.

Artists were challenged to interpret this theme broadly, capturing the beauties, and wonders of rural eastern shore life.  Some artists were inspired by the seasonal rhythms of planting, a bountiful harvest, an early frost, or how light and shadow play across a changing environment.  Some enjoyed capturing the bustle of parades, fairs, summer parties, farmers’ markets.  Others were taken by the wildlife and still others by the water.  Artists were asked to capture the patterns that can be seen all around us in the life on the Eastern Shore.

For more information, please go here.

Spy Review: The Rolling Stones “No Filter” Tour


The Rolling Stones made it back to Maryland during the long Fourth of July holiday, following the postponement of their Memorial Day weekend concert due to Mick Jagger’s heart-valve surgery. Any doubt that the Stones can still play, that Jagger can still command the stage and prance about in full-throated theatrical vigor, was obliterated on a steamy night that would drain men half his age and that of his partners comprising—yes, indeed—the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band ever.

Take that, Beatles fans. More on that later.

A confession in AARP terms: Historical perspective informs my opinion that the Stones are now performing better than ever. Which is saying a ton. In my estimated 27 times of seeing and hearing them live, which may account for my partial hearing loss, I’ve never known the Stones to mail it in, to go through the motions, though at times in the ’70s, when Keith Richards chased his heroin hangover with Jack Daniels, the band occasionally lost focus. Even then, their ragged play reflected a spontaneous and one-of-a-kind genius.

But on this Fourth of July eve, the Stones were as deliberate in their seemingly raucous mayhem as I’ve ever experienced. From the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” opener to the “Satisfaction” finale, the band—even with several new contributors to their supporting cast and sharply limited rehearsals constricted by Jagger’s recovery—never missed a beat. We can thank Charlie Watts for that. The band’s senior—an original Stone along with Jagger and Richards who turn 76 this year—has anchored their controlled chaos for 57 years, coming in at the last instant with the percussive heartbeat they all lean on, if only by vibration when they can’t hear it onstage.

I first heard the Stones in 1964, as I recall, on WCAO-AM, the top 40 station in Baltimore, when an overnight DJ wandered off the playlist to spin a 45 flipside that had Jagger moaning in bluesy-beggar mode “I need you, baby, Mona.” (“Without your love I’d surely die.”) Perhaps this captured the love-life anguish of a dateless 16-year-old. Whatever. The Stones’ Brit/blues fortified me against near-universal peer pressure to tilt my allegiance toward The Beatles. Six years later, when the Fab Four were no more, I taunted their fans by calling The Beatles “the world’s most overrated band.” It was tongue-in-cheek, sort of. They were undeniably great, but also hyped beyond measure. My measure was how well a band balanced studio albums and original songs with live performance. The Beatles never mastered the latter. They surrendered to screaming girls who drowned them out. The Stones, instead, virtually invented the modern rock concert by installing their own sound, and later video equipment plus beyond-Broadway stage sets. Meanwhile, The Beatles and other touring bands at the time relied on sound systems available to them at, for instance, Shea Stadium in New York, or the Civic Center in Baltimore.

The Stones’ mastery of this vital piece of their legacy is so evident as to be taken for granted. Most in attendance at FedEx Stadium, Hyattsville home of the Redskins, expect such aural and visual enhancement at any big-venue event. But geezers like me remember when bands sounded like what you might hear on a P.A. system at a bus or train terminal. Squawk! Squawk!

My first Stones concert was 1965 in Baltimore and the second that same night (or maybe it was vice versa) at the even-then decrepit Washington Coliseum. I discovered by way of Bill Wyman’s coffee-table scrapbook, which he autographed early this millennium, that I paid $7.50 for each concert. A few years ago, at what I expected would be my final Stones attendance, ticket prices moved two decimals to the right. That I could procure nosebleed tix for $99 this time around persuaded me to see them again, I presume, once more, for the last time. I’ve been fooled before, but given Jagger’s surgery and the Stones’ four-to-five-year gap between tours, that makes most of them 80-plus next time around. 

Wyman, now 83, may be responsible for the Stones’ astute attention to sound equipment. Senior to other band members, he was hired, in part, because he had his own speakers, better than any the others could afford. 

Back to “No Filter,” the Stones’ current tour: Every Stones epoch is represented on their playlist, including a brief instrumental interlude of “2120 Michigan Avenue” and a cover of “Mercy Mercy,” both preceding the 1965 blockbuster “Satisfaction,” ranked rock’s No. 2 all-time by Rolling Stone. The Stones played it like it was first time, virginal (or at least horny). Sometimes rock stars and others in stadium venues turn the microphone toward the audience to fill in the blanks, such as “I can’t get no” or “You can’t always get what you want,” and the gesture falls flat. Not here. The stadium reverberated with live feedback. The same on the disco-ish “Miss You”: “Too too too too, too-de doo. Too too-TOO too!” Even the apocalyptic “Gimme Shelter,” with now climate-change overtones, evoked a mournful wave of “ooooh ooooh woooh.”

On any and all of these numbers it’s impossible to miss the “rookie” among Stones regulars. In 1975, Ronnie Wood succeeded Mick Taylor, who replaced drug-addled Brian Jones before he was fired, then died face-up in a swimming pool in 1969. Wood is a “Picasso on guitar,” as Jagger described him. Next to the frontman, he’s the Stones live-concert centerpiece, displaying his electric and acoustic string athleticism, balanced by Richards’ inventive and high-caliber showmanship. Regrettably, Keith is a lesser figure in that the Stones are not producing new songs. It once bothered me that fans sat on their hands when the Stones played new material on their tours in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. It doesn’t matter anymore. There’s a treasure of songs left off the current 20-song setlist. I didn’t hear my personal favorite, “Dead Flowers,” or the one I personally identify with as a Dutchman’s Lane farmboy—I retired to Easton Club East, next door to the former dairy farm I grew up on—“Sweet Virginia” (“got to scrape the [excrement] right off your shoo-ooze”). But there were songs from every period, sung with no punches pulled, including “Start Me Up,” which was played at our first-dance wedding reception, best known for the lyric “you make a grown man cry,” ending with the woman in question’s desirability to a dead man. 

The Stones are profane and poetic. R-rated Bob Dylan, if you will. Who can argue with their philosophy: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time you just might find you get what you need?”

If you’ve never seen the Stones, this could actually be your last chance. They’re playing July 23 in Philly, barely a two-hour drive from Easton (less from Chestertown) since the Middletown bypass opened. Failing that, there are two shows Aug. 1 and 5 up the Jersey turnpike at MetLife Stadium. If you care about rock ’n’ roll at all, you must see these masters of the art.

I have no regrets now, having seen them, I suspect for the last time. But what of my post-Stones life? These guys are not too old to play. But I may be too old to see them. Getting to FedEx was way more hassle than I’d bother for a Redskins game or anyone else besides the Stones. But if they never tour again, what am I left with in terms of guilty pleasures? I don’t smoke and gave up recreational drugs way back in the last millennium. I don’t drink to excess and have been faithful in decades of marriage. The Stones are my last surviving vice. Guess I’ll have to take up gambling.

Steve Parks, retired journalist and arts writer/editor, is a recovering Stones addict now living in Easton.


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