Building on the riches of the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, Countryside Artisans is a group of like-minded painters, farmers, potters, stonemasons, woodworkers, textile artists, glass blowers, jewelers, yarn dyers, ceramicists, photographers and wine and beer crafters—all following their creative passions by the foothills of Sugarloaf Mountain and in nearby Montgomery, Frederick and Howard counties. The 93,000 acres of rural land set aside in 1980 in the western and northern part of Montgomery County, including all land along the border with Frederick County, provides not only an idyllic sanctuary but also an opportunity for the artists to participate in and meld their arts to preserve and highlight the unique environmental qualities, heritage and beauty of the area.
Nineteen artisans form the collective, each working their own studios or farms year-round and joining semi-annually for tours in April and December. I had an opportunity to visit three members on the recent holiday tour weekends earlier this month.
The repurposed barn and adjoining milking parlor that houses Dusty Road Pottery on Linthicum Road in Dickerson combines a teaching studio and shop for Jennifer Hamilton’s highly textured, hand-painted earthenware pottery and unique sculptural vessels. Her individually made functional stoneware uses collage-type markings, nature-inspired forms and printing presslike rolled slabs of clay layered with monoprinting using colored slip (liquified clay) painted onto newsprint, which transfers the drawing to clay. “I love things that look rustic—my objective is to not get a perfect print. I stick to earthy colors, using a lot of cobalt blue recently, and playing with color and textures.”
Hamilton’s style is cohesive, typically in a series, and distinctive in its use of signature motifs that coalesce. She is currently fashioning an open space connection between the studio and shop so that visitors can experience demos and works in progress.
Dancing Leaf Farm & Dyeworks in Barnesville is a 36-year-old small cottage industry featuring owner Dalis Davidson’s line of hand-dyed yarn, fiber and wearables. The workshop features colorful yarns, some local and some from worldwide sources, and fiber for spinners and felters. A dye studio in the basement is where wool is washed and colored, employing an acid dye and heat process that simmers for an hour allowing dyes to imbed.
Davidson uses the wool from three sheep grazing on the property. “They are sheared once a year,” she said. “Sometimes I make blankets with their wool or hand spin and sell it.” Two brilliant new colors this season are sweet mint (greens) and sugar plum (mauves). Davidson’s studio features her work and that of select guest artists. New products include honey produced on the farm and honeycomb jewelry. She recently did some landscape photography in the area and transferred prints to canvas. Additionally, there are scarves of various materials, handknit items, felting on silk and her unique wool paintings called “lambscapes.”
Sugarloaf Studios, with a fantastic view of Sugarloaf Mountain, is the home of Susan Due Pearcy who creates original prints, paintings and photographs celebrating nature’s beauty. With a spectacular view from floor to ceiling windows—rugged, natural …. one can actually imagine images unfolding and reflecting their picturesque surroundings.
Pearcy works in a series with drypoint (a printmaking technique similar to engraving), watercolor, pastel and oil. Her gingko leaf renderings are displayed as well as watercolors of withering leaves from sunflowers planted outside and landscapes. “I think of it all as drawing,” she said. Primarily a plein air painter, she experiments with other media and recently created a series of pastels from photographs for the first time. “I’ve discovered that I have a body of good photos. My husband was a photographer and filmmaker and I learned a lot from him,” she explained. Her career has been multifaceted and her work is displayed internationally including a series at the Library of Congress.
Two large etching presses are formidable in the center of the atelier—one functional and one antique. Two metal rollers on the press allow a flat press bed containing paper and an inked printing matrix (linocut, etching, drypoint) to slide through and transfer images to paper as a result of the rolling pressure. In January, Pearcy will be attending a printmaking workshop in Mexico and plans to more fully explore the medium.
Countryside Artisans of Maryland, www.countrysideartisans.com, holds events during the year and tours in April and December. Visit their website for April 2020 dates and further information. Artists may be contacted via email and their studios are open during the tour and by appointment: Jennifer Hamilton at Dusty Road Pottery, www.dustyroadpottery.com; Dalis Davidson at Dancing Leaf Farm & Dyeworks, www.dancingleaffarm.com; and Susan Due Pearcy at Sugarloaf Studios, www.susanduepearcy.com.