The Legacy of Fireworks at Washington College

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An artist’s rendering of “Radiant Echo,” the light sculpture to be installed  at Washington College as seen from the green

Former Washington College President Joseph McLain is remembered for many things – but his most enduring legacy may well be the tradition of fireworks displays at the college.

Joseph McLain shares a laugh with students

McLain, a chemistry professor with a lifelong interest in pyrotechnics, attended Washington College as an undergraduate. After college, he served in the World War II chemical corps, working on such projects as an improved hand grenade fuse and underwater cutting torches. After the war, he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Johns Hopkins, then returned to Washington College to teach. Over the course of his career, he made the college a center for the study of fireworks, both in the academic community and in the commercial fireworks industry. His work focused, among other things, on improving fireworks ignition systems so as to avoid timing errors, which can be dangerous as well as spoiling the artistic effect of a display. He became the 22nd president of the college in 1973 and served until his death in 1981 — the only alumnus ever to fill the position. McLain was also responsible for establishing the annual Fourth of July fireworks show in Chestertown, which he staged on the Washington College campus.

John Conkling

In 1969, McLain hired one of his former students – John Conkling, also a Hopkins Ph.D. – to join the chemistry faculty at the college. McLain steered Conkling toward the study of pyrotechnics, which resulted in the first federal safety standards for fireworks, jointly created by the two and enacted in 1976 by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. In 1985, Conkling resigned his full-time teaching position to become Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnics Association– a position he held until 1998. He continued to teach adjunct courses without taking a salary, and hosted the annual Summer Pyrotechnics Seminars at Washington College.

Largely because of the legacy of McLain and Conkling, fireworks displays have become a tradition at Washington College, welcoming students back to campus in the fall and celebrating graduation and other occasions such as the inauguration of current president Kurt Landgraf. Residents near the college often come out to see the shows, which are visible and audible from a wide area of the town.

Chestertown also had a history of fireworks before McLain, most notably with the Kent Manufacturing plant, which, beginning in 1941, produced defense materiel for World War II and then added fireworks to its line after the war. After his return to Chestertown, McLain became a partner in the business, along with founder Tony Fabrizi, whom he had met during his time in the service. That venture came to an end when a fire and explosion destroyed the plant in 1954. But McLain continued to work with the pyrotechnics industry, with a special interest in safety standards.

Now, to create a more permanent monument to McLain, Conkling and their pyrotechnics work, McLain’s daughter Lynn McLain, is raising funds for “Radiant  Echo,” an innovative art installation planned for the atrium of the Toll Science Center at the college. Intended to serve as an enduring art piece for the college and the town of Chestertown, “Radant Echo,” designed by Flux Studio of Baltimore, will be a three- dimensional grid of LED fixtures suspended in the 3-story atrium. The fixtures, which will hang to within 14 feet of the floor, will flash and flicker in emulation of a fireworks display, with chrome spheres suspended within the field to reflect and amplify the lights. According to a prospectus for the program, “As with fireworks, spectators will know that something will happen, but they won’t know exactly what, or exactly when.”

An artist’s rendering of”Radiant Echo” as seen from inside the atrium

The prospectus adds, “The choreography of the sculpture will draw from both the chemical behavior of fireworks and the phenomenal experience of observing them, contrasting familiar aerial exploding with inward collapsing at the atomic scale.” It will be programmed to operate in two states, depending on the time of day. Its default, resting state will feature short bursts of light at the outer edges of the sculpture, a “momentary flickering at the corner of one’s eye that vanishes almost as soon as it appears.” In its nighttime, or active, state, the tentative flickerings will “crescendo and then explode, piercing the darkness and dissolving into a cascading shower of light. At times the whole sculpture will erupt in a cacophony of explosions, recalling the grand finale of a fireworks show.” The displays will be visible from the campus green outside Toll Science Center and from Washington Avenue.as well as to those inside the building.

“Radiant Echo” will also have an educational function. Glenn Shrum, who designed the sculpture, plans to teach an interdisciplinary workshop while the piece is being installed. Also, college faculty will be able to use the sculpture in their classes on physics, chemistry, psychology, computer programming, and art. And as part of its installation, there will be a symposium on fireworks drawing on many different disciplines. There will also be a public honoring of Dr. Conkling and his wife Sandy.

Lynn McLain said on Jan. 7 that she hopes fundraising for the project will be completed within the year. Installation of the project is expected to take 14 to 16 months, she said. The final contacts for the construction of the project are in process.

To help promote the project, Lynn McLain has written an illustrated coffee-table book, For the Love of Fireworks, published in 2017. Proceeds from the book will help to fund the creation of “Radiant Echo.” The book is full of fascinating detail and would make a great gift. The book explores the history and cultural associations of fireworks, and includes a series of trivia questions such as when fireworks were invented, where the largest fireworks display on record took place, components used in their manufacture, and so forth. For the Love of Fireworks is available online at $56.99 from Amazon and other online booksellers.  Or buy the book, hard or softcover, directly from author McLain at http://www.loveoffireworks.com .   The price is the same and a direct purchase, McLain said, will result in a larger contribution to the project.

Fundraising is underway to cover the estimated $250,000 cost of building and installing “Raidant Echo.” McLain said on Jan. 7 that the campaign had raised just over $100,000. To contribute to the effort, contact Lynn McLain at 410-778-4515 or lmclain@ubalt.edu.  You can also contribute through the Washington College Office of Advancement at 410-778-7801. Checks can be made out to the Washington College Office of Advancement, with “Atrium Sculpture Project” in the memo line. The address is Washington College Office of Advancement,  300 Washington Ave.,  Chestertown, MD 21620.

And then look forward to fabulous firework displays on Washington College campus, both real and simulated via “Radiant Echo.”

 

 

 

Point of View: Oysterman Scott Budden on Exelon’s Pending 46 Year Lease to Run Conowingo Dam

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While Scott Budden and his company, Orchard Point Oyster Company, might be the face of a new generation of oystermen on the Chesapeake Bay, his concerns about the Conowingo Dam, its owner, the Exelon Corporation, and their pending approval for a 46 year old lease to operate it, has a very familiar ring to it. Just like other oystermen working in the north part of the Bay for many years, Scott believes the company needs to listen more and proactively coordinate with oyster producers when, and how much, sediment is released into the Bay from the Dam and the Susquehanna River.

In short, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plans to renew Exelon’s operating lease for almost half a century this year. As part of that permitting, the energy corporation must obtain the approval of is required to obtain a Clean Water Act certification from the Maryland Department of the Environment for the continued operation of the facility and the state has encouraged public comments on this long-term arrangement until January 15.

And Scott has quite a few comments.

In his Spy interview last week, Scott talks about the negative impact of Exelon’s current practice of releasing the dam’s waters to generate power, regardless of the sediment impact on Bay’s oyster beds. He also talks about the need for more significant partnerships between Exelon and the aquaculture industry to ensure the minimum amount of damage to the Bay and its essential oyster industry.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For others interested in making a documented comment on the pending lease agreement, please use the following contact and address by January 15:

Elder Ghigiarelli, Jr.
Deputy Program Administrator
Wetlands and Waterways Program/Water Management Administration
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Boulevard, Suite 430
Baltimore, MD 21230
or
elder.ghigiarelli@maryland.gov

 

Grants in Action: The Ladies of Nia and Women & Girls Fund Prepare Young Girls for Real World

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While the accomplishments of the BAAM program in Talbot County has become well known for its mentoring programs for young boys, it was comforting for the Spy to learn the other day that there was a Mid-Shore equivalent just for girls, thanks in part due to the sponsorship of the Women & Girls Fund.

Nine years ago, six young women took a “girls trip” to reunite with childhood friendships from Lockerman Middle School in Denton many years after they had graduated from college and had started professional careers. As Malica Dunnock, one of the ringleaders of the group recounted in her interview with Spy, every woman on that trip had an extraordinary sense of being blessed to find a way to higher education and all the promises that it brings to young people. And like many who have had good future like this, the ladies quickly moved on to talk about ways to help a new generation of girls have that same experience

That was when this special friendship circle formed of The Ladies of Nia, which borrows the African term for “purpose” in the organization’s title, which has been working with dozens of girls growing up in and around Denton to find a path forward to the same opportunities as the founders.

The Spy talked to both Malica and Alice Ryan, the founder of the Women & Girls Fund, about The Ladies of Nia, their young students, and their special partnership.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund or to help support its work please go here 

The Face of Suicide in All Seasons with Beth Anne Langrell and Lesa Lee

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For the record, there is no such thing as a “Suicide Season.” While it may be tempting to think of these long dark days of winter as a critical time for those contemplating ending their lives, this has shown to be statistically not the case.

In fact, the risk of suicide is a four-season phenomenon which makes it all the more understandable that our Mid-Shore’s suicide crisis and prevention center is called For All Seasons. A mental health agency tasked with being the community’s front line to save those suffering from these impulses, For All Seasons have significantly invested resources and public education programming over the years to provide a safe and caring place for those at risk and their families.

The Spy recently sat down with For All Seasons director Beth Anne Langrell and its clinical director, Lesa Lee, to talk about the ongoing threat of suicide in the region and their views of how best to attack this cry for help from loved ones.

As part of that interview, the Spy wanted to match some of Beth Anne and Lesa’s comments to the real and recent faces of suicide in our country that were found online.  Young and old, male or female, white or black, over one million Americans are trying to end their lives each year. Those images say so much more about these avoidable tragedies.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about For All Seasons please click here 

The Art of the Merge with ShoreRivers Jeff Horstman

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While it could be said that the proverbial writing was on the wall for some time, the Sassafras, Chester River and Mid-Shore Riverkeepers, and their affiliated organizations, were getting a pretty clear message over the last three years from their major institutional funders that these three, very similar enterprises must consider consolidation for the best possible mission delivery.

As a result of this welcomed nudge, representatives of each group began to meet eighteen months ago to discuss the logistics of this somewhat complicated merging of functions and governance. But inevitably the most exciting part was when these organizations could start to see the raw power that could be achieved by the change. Not only regarding protecting their beloved river sheds but also have a far greater presence in Annapolis and the halls of Congress to pursue their advocacy work.

It fell on Jeff Horstman, the current director of the Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy, to manage the process which ultimately led to the creation of ShoreRivers.  And he will become its executive director at the beginning of the new year.

The Spy felt it was a good time to sit down with Jeff and talk about how the process, as well as the delicacy and sensitivity needed as these three very different cultures with very similar goals, become a new nucleus.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the new ShoreRivers please go here

Shedding Light on the Great Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 by Greg Mort

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A total solar eclipse is an exotic event disrupting the normal routine of our celestial drama. This extraordinary event evokes the same kind of wonder as the appearance of a comet or a meteor shower. Throughout history, cosmic occurrences have ignited inspiration as well as consternation. Historically before eclipses were understood or predicted, ancient people were terrified.

Today we have the benefit of centuries of scientific knowledge to our diminish fears and enrich our experience. However, I would like to propose, to more fully enjoy the Great Total Eclipse of 2017 that you witness it as purely as possible by simply using all your five senses.

The morning of August 21st a total solar eclipse will race across the continental United States drawing an unprecedented amount of public attention. Our first truly transcontinental total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years and the first since the inception of the Internet we will have the ability to instantly communicate personal expression/interpretation and information. Even viewers clouded out or not in the direct path of totality will be able to share the event via live-feeds on many social media platforms.

As an artist and an astronomer who has logged as many hours at the telescope as at my easel, my suggestion is to view this once in a lifetime event free from our normal appendages of multi sensorial devices such as cameras and or communication devices.

While I compose these thoughts several weeks before the big day, many folks have made their travel plans, booked hotels, campsites, rented RV’s, imposed on relatives or strangers in the path of totality. A grand chorus of news coverage, endless but important safety warnings and equipment sales of all sizes and costs have already begun. In fact, if you are just now considering your battle plan, you are behind the curve by quite a bit. Still, don’t despair there is hope. Even if your hometown lies beyond the path of totality, a partial eclipse can be memorable if you take the time to enjoy the spectacle on multiple experiential levels.

Throughout a total solar eclipse and depending upon your location and good fortunate with the weather gods our sun will be partly or entirely blocked out by the moon passing directly in front of it. The moon’s close proximity to Earth allows it to appear to cover (eclipse) the solar disk even though it is hundreds of times smaller than

Greg Mort eclipse watching. Note solar discs projected on the ground.

our sun. As the moon’s shadow travels across the earth at over 1000 miles an hour (due to the moons orbital motion minus the Earth’s eastward), the viewer will witness the gentle lunar dance lasting about two hours from start to finish. The sky will slowly darken; temperatures will drop as the air under the shadow cools causing winds to dissipate transforming the landscape with an eerie stillness. One should not expect the sky to appear uniformly dark.

The area closest to the sun will be darkened, and as we gaze toward the earth’s horizon, it will appear lighter. The highlight, (total coverage of the sun) will only last a little over two minutes. During these tantalizing few moments, the jet-black disk of the moon is directly over the sun. A breathtaking sun-lite halo called the corona (Latin for crown) surrounding the disc. Then as the dance progresses light streaks through the valleys of the lunar mountains in a brief sparkling phenomenon known as “Baily’s Beads.”

Be open to all of the unique qualities a solar eclipse has to offer. There is a fascinating list of observations you can witness aside from following the disc of the moon as it crosses over the sun. For example, since the entire event spans about two hours make a note of how the quality, tone, color or transparency of light around you change. From my experience, wondrous and unusual lighting effects are parts of the drama of any total or partial solar eclipse. In general, the tone of what would normally be a sunny bright day gives way to an ever-changing palette of “silvery” light. Some observers have also reported a “green-ness” as the light diminishes.

Those viewers in the direct path of the moon’s shadow will also enjoy the brief appearance of several planets and bright stars. Starting at about thirty minutes before totality the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury will gradually come into view. The brightest star in our sky, Sirius along with Arcturus, Capella and Regulus will add to the spectacle.

Please remember that no matter how much of the sun’s disc is covered it is always advised to use proper protective eye shielding at all times. Inexpensive Mylar solar filters and glasses are available from many sources.

To photograph or not to photograph is a very common and important question. I was confronted with the same choice during my first artistic commission as a NASA artist. The veteran members of the Shuttle Art team who had portrayed earlier missions wisely suggested not wasting valuable time snapping pictures. Rather they recommended focusing on a real-time emotional eyewitness record.

I failed to heed their warning and purchased a camera that could take continuous frames. Fortunately, as Sally Ride became the first American woman to orbit the Earth, I was able to take a number of images and watch at the carry any of the impact of the brilliant light, thundering sound, earthquake like vibration, smell of the rocket fuel or the sensation of the infrared heat hitting your face even at three miles from the launch pad! In the end the artwork that I produced for the NASA Art

The program came entirely from the overpowering emotional impact of witnessing this powerful event. Photographing was a total waste of time and a major distraction.

For photographs of this eclipse, I plan to depend upon the thousands of professional images taken by people well versed in recording such a rare event that will be instantaneously available to the public via the Internet, journals, and magazines. My first priority will be to savor each aspect of the spectacle, first-hand, record it via the mind’s eye, and use all five senses to totally absorb the atmosphere.

However, if it is just too hard to resist the temptation to capture the event electronically, here are a few simple tricks that should produce positive results. Use a tripod to hold your cell phone or camera for hands-free operation. Set up and test your equipment in advance and practice the steps you will follow to confirm smooth functioning. Making your technical process as “automatic “ as possible should allow you the freedom to enjoy the eclipse on a high tech as well as sensorial level.

Finally, I would also encourage watching the eclipse with others. The more perspectives and memories you rally together, the better your chances are to notice a discrete aspect or unique interpretation of the phenomenon. After the show has come and gone it is particularly wonderful to discuss and relive the event with your fellow eclipse companions.

Then, you can all start planning for the next eclipse adventure

Greg Mort is an internationally recognized contemporary artist who is represented by the Carla Massoni Gallery, a passionate amateur astronomer and member of the NASA Shuttle Art Team who serves on the board of the Lowell Observatory. He is traveling to Madras, Oregon to view the eclipse with family and friends.

Shore Leadership Class Meets at Wye River Upper School

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The 2017 Shore Leadership class met at Wye River Upper School in Queen Anne’s County on May 24th for the first of 7 sessions.  Two students from Wye River Upper School greeted and welcomed the class to the completely renovated Centreville National Guard Barracks which Wye River now calls home.

The morning session was facilitated by Dr. Joe Thomas on Leading with Strengths.  The class had completed the Strengths Finder assessment and used that information throughout the morning as they worked with Dr. Thomas.

After lunch, Ms. Chrissy Aull, founder and Executive Director of Wye River Upper School discussed the history of the school and why there is a need for schools like Wye River.  Three students shared their stories and talked about how their learning differences held them back at their other schools but that at Wye River their differences have become their strengths and have helped them to be successful.  The students and Ms. Aull gave the class a tour of the renovated campus. 

Dr. Jon Andes, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore of Maryland Education Consortium, spoke to the class about the State of Public Education in Maryland.  He shared the laws the govern Maryland public education and told the class that each year there is a deficit of more than 2000 qualified teachers in Maryland.  The Maryland colleges are not producing enough teachers and students are not enrolling to become teachers.  Neighboring states are also seeing a decline in their teacher education programs. He also shared that since 1986 the nine counties on the Eastern Shore have been part of the ESMEC consortium which gives them a bigger voice with the legislature and with the Maryland State Department of Education.

Later in the afternoon Marci Leach from Chesapeake College and Bryan Newton from Wor-Wic Community College led a discussion and game show which highlighted the role of Community Colleges in today’s world.  Deborah Urry, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center shared information about the baccalaureate and graduate degrees offered at the Center which is located on the Chesapeake College Wye Mills Campus.

Throughout the day the class focused on how strengths can be used as a focus for leadership development.  The next session will be held in Caroline County in June and will deal with the topic of Rural Health Care.

Mid-Shore Arts: Working the Water with Jay Fleming

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It is hard not to be a bit unnerved by how young Jay Fleming is after seeing his extraordinary work of photography. While only thirty years old, Fleming has produced a portfolio that shows a maturity and mastery that should match up with someone twice his age.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this surprising contradiction is the fact that he is the son of Kevin Fleming, whose photographs graced the pages of National Geographic for much of the 1980s and 1990s. But the other compelling factor was Jay’s fascination and love of the Chesapeake Bay region from the moment he was first taken out on the water as a child.

Regardless of some of these co-factors, the fact remains that Jay Fleming has very quickly earned the reputation as being part of a new generation of award-winning photographers devoted to recording realistic portraits of men and women working on the water.

The latest example of this booming career is the recent release of Working the Water, a stunning 280-page photography book that chronicles the life and work of watermen from the most northern part of the Chesapeake Bay to the furthest South.

A few weeks ago, the Spy visited Jay in his new studio space in Annapolis to talk about his disciplined approach to the art of photography.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information on Jay Fleming please go here

Profiles in Spirituality: St. Peter and Paul’s Father James Nash

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The idea of being the leader of Saints Peter & Paul Parish could easily strike urbanites as the equivalent of being the classic country priest, whose time is spent leisurely ministering to a small flock of the faithful in a beautiful rural setting. But it didn’t take long for Father James Nash to dispel that myth very quickly from his modest office on Route 50 in Easton when the Spy caught up with him a few weeks ago.

In fact, Father Nash oversees an enterprise that is counted as one of the largest employers in Talbot County and includes an elementary school, high school, and three churches with membership in the thousands. And each week, he not only faces the normal challenges that come with any man of the cloth, but must manage over one hundred employees, fundraise for substantial building projects, and administer a $6 million annual budget during his spare time.

And yet none of this seems to weigh too heavily on the priest who left a successful accounting practice to find his real vocation within the Catholic Church. In our Spy interview, Father Nash talks about the business of St. Peter and Paul, but also about the timeless beauty of his faith, the teachings of Pope Francis, and his humble philosophy of leadership in caring for his parish.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about Saints Peter and Paul Church and School, please go here.