Tucked off MD 355 down Hyattstown Mill Road at the edge of Little Bennett Regional Park is Hyattstown Mill, home of the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project (HMAP) that celebrated its 20th anniversary during the recent Heritage Days Festival with the fine art exhibit “Return to Sugarloaf.” The historic former grist mill was originally built in the 1700s and reconstructed after a fire in 1918 with materials from nearby Price’s Distillery. It was renovated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Montgomery County and in 1999 offered as the cultural arts facility Hyattstown Mill Arts Project.
Bobby Donovan, a painter, woodcut artist, and executive director of the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project said the organization is a collection of regional artists and writers who celebrate the arts with an active music program, history and environmental education, poetry readings, painting, drawing and potluck get-togethers. “We express a variety in our exhibits—history, environmental issues, music.” The group is membership-based and non-profit.
“Today’s exhibit is called ‘Return to Sugarloaf’ since the first exhibit 20 years ago focused on Sugarloaf Mountain,” Donovan said. Artist members were challenged to create a commemoration to Sugarloaf in honor of the group’s 20th anniversary. Each piece reflects the artist’s vision of the mountain’s presence and influence on the area.
DC-based artist Martin Kotler created his oil on linen “Sugarloaf Mt. View” several weeks ago. “It was a gray and rainy morning and I came up from DC to join a plein air group,” he explained. “I didn’t run into anyone, but painted at a private home. I wake up at the crack of dawn to paint. It’s as serious as a heart attack for me!” He loves and supports the whole idea of the project. “Anything that dictates who we are in the 20th century. … A place in time—emotion … that’s what painting is to me,” he said.
Clarksburg artist Alan Gramley’s “Evening View of Sugarloaf” was painted especially for the show. He began his work by visiting his chosen location at the corner of Comus and Peach Tree roads. “I parked in the area at the corner and made a pencil study, then took photos and painted from a sketch,” he said. Typically an abstract painter, Gramley is influenced by landscape references.
HMAP President Mike Shaffer made introductions and spoke about the group’s origins. He presented Donovan with a ceramic bowl commemorating the occasion.
Work is hung to complement the ambiance of the rustic dark-wood interior of the old mill—on burlap squares suspended from wooden beams, on placards on the wall—and placed atop wooden pedestals. Bluegrass/Americana musical accompaniment played by local band The Tumbleweeds, featuring mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass and guitar, provided the perfect backdrop to the festivities.
Artist Susan Due Pearcy, owner of Sugarloaf Studio in Barnesville, whose “Changing Seasons” graced the cover of the show’s brochure, is the group’s exhibitions and planning chair. Her work was done last fall in the backyard of a private home overlooking the mountain. “I work in many media—watercolor, pastel, oil—and I like something about every one.” She talked about the group’s events that include two or three shows a year, a weekly pastel plein air group that meets every Wednesday and monthly programs dedicated to music, drawing and poetry. Their popular open mic poetry potlucks are held three times a year. “The poetry potlucks allow all generations and talents to participate with the opportunity to get up and express themselves in a non-judgmental setting,” Pearcy said.
Feltwork artist Dalis Davidson’s needle-felted gem is entitled “Fieldwork.” “I call them ‘lambscapes’—paintings with wool,” she said. “I start off with a 100 percent wool felt base and use wool from the sheep and silk and yarn bits for texture and needle felt it to compact the fibers.” To finish the piece, she shocks the fibers to set them by balling them up wet and throwing them against a hard surface. Davidson owns Dancing Leaf Farm, a sheep farm where she hand dyes all her wool, and she has been needle felting for about six years. She also creates scarves from rayon and silk and shawls and wraps from hand-dyed wool using a combination of machine and handwork. Check Dancing Leaf Farm’s website and Facebook page for notice of an upcoming demo entitled Sheep to Shawl on July 27.
Debra Ambush’s “St. Paul A.M.E. Church at Greenfield” is a scenic oil pastel of the 150-year-old African Methodist/Episcopal church with the Monacacy River in the distance. The home featured has been in the Ambush family for many years. “I created this piece to emphasize the importance of the African-American presence in Sugarloaf,” Ambush said.
“Return to Sugarloaf” is on view at HMAP through this Sunday, July 28. Call 301.830.1142 for hours. Check the website, www.hyattstownmill.org, and Facebook page for workshop and event details.