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What's Up Magazine

Faces of the Arts: Art in Public Places Commission

Dec 08, 2014 11:19AM ● By Cate Reynolds
Our periodic series of articles, focusing on local arts organizations, continues this month with the Art in Public Places Commission. A new task force sheds light on the artwork abound in Annapolis.

By Ellen Moyer // Photography by Lisa Shires

An art gallery without walls…this defines Annapolis. The City boasts an art arsenal that includes 60 monuments and sculptures, Tiffany stained glass windows in public buildings and churches, paintings by early American artists, dozens of murals and outdoor art, artworks by internationally known artists, and a series of monument firsts. Annapolis has enough going on in the arts world to be a national arts destination.

Given the rich cultural history and the quantity, quality, and diversity of art in Annapolis, a city defined in colonial days as the Athens of America, a City Task Force suggested in 2009 that the city has the potential to become one which is recognized as a national arts destination. “When one thinks of fun towns to visit, what they all have in common is a high level of culture and art,” commented a participant in the City study. And Annapolis has it; we just don’t talk about it.

In 2014, the Art in Public Places Commission (AIPPC) decided to make good on the Task Force study to achieve the goal of a national arts destination. According to Commission member Anne Palumbo, the Commission grappled with the reality that few visitors or residents really knew what Annapolis had to offer. The first order of business was to retain a St John’s student, Charles Zug, to catalogue the city’s diversity of art available to the public, exclusive of the college museum’s acquisitions. The AIPPC hopes to publicize its findings on the web and in a book by 2015.
Here is a preview of what the Commission is finding:

• Near the shores of the Severn is the oldest military monument in the United States. Carved in Italy of Carrara marble by Giovanni C. Micoli, in 1806 it was shipped as ballast in the USS Constitution to Washington, D.C., where it was installed in 1808 on the Capitol grounds. It was transferred to the United States Naval Academy in 1860. It is the Tripoli Monument, commissioned by Congress “in the memory of the Heroes in the new nation’s first war in 1804,” authorized by President Thomas Jefferson against the Barbary Pirates.

• Tucked among the trees near the St. John’s College boathouse is the first monument anywhere in the world to the unknown war dead. On April 10, 1911, the monument, designed by Baltimore sculptor J. Maxwell Miller, was dedicated to the French forces that gave their life in the American War of Independence. President Taft attended the ceremony.

• Among the 60 sculptures in the City environs are works by international award winning artists. Jean Antoine Houdon is considered the greatest European portrait sculptor. In the 1780s, the busts of our founding fathers were created by him. So was John Paul Jones, the “Father of the United States Navy,” the leader who said “I have not yet begun to fight.” Houdon’s work can be seen in the crypt of Jones at the USNA.

• The State House grounds houses the bronze statue of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. It is the work of Maryland sculptor William Henry Rinehart. Upon his death, he bequeathed his estate to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for the education of sculptors. This endowed the Rinehart School of Sculpture.

• Ephraim Keyser graduated from the Rinehart School and directed it for 30 years. His work, the DeKalb statue, is also on the State House grounds. Dekalb is a German general who fought with Lafayette and the American cause and was killed in the Battle of Camden in 1780.

• In more modern times, Franco Alessandrini—whose work “Displaced” was commissioned by the New Orleans Art in Public Places project after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area—sculpted the statue of the Beatified and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, rector of St Mary’s Church and Redemptorist Missionary, who ministered to the Civil War troops in Annapolis.

• A centerpiece of the City Dock is the bronze sculpture by Edward Dwight of Alex Haley, of Roots fame, telling stories to young children about Kunta Kinte, the enslaved African sold at the Market House more than 150 years ago.

• Navy Bill, the bronze goat presented to the USNA in 1957 by the Alumni Class of 1915, is near Gate 1. It was sculpted by Clement Spampinato who is the well-known sculptor of Hall of Fame sports figures.

• The golden years of the 1900s saw stained glass works of Tiffany Studios installed at the USNA chapel, St. Anne’s Church, and the skylight of the Senate Chamber, originally designed in 1903 by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself.

• Famous portrait painters of the 19th century—including Thomas Sully, John Bordley II, Edwin White, Francis Blackwell Mayer, and Charles Wilson Peale—visited, worked, and lived in Annapolis. The Annapolis State House is filled with their art work. Portraits of George Washington resigning his commission, Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence, the burning of the Peggy Stewart, and a 1768 Peale portrait of William Pitt, a supporter of the colonies, tell the stories of Annapolis in the era of the Revolutionary War.

Truly, Annapolis has a great collection of artwork by the best of artists. Citizens inspired by art can pick a favorite artist or work of art and explore Annapolis on foot. Museums and numerous galleries to browse testify to the economic asset of the arts.

The City Task Force on Culture and the Arts, chaired by Chris Nelson, President of St. John’s College, found that the arts contributed a conservative $45,000,000 to the local economy in 2008. Recent national studies reveal that art and culture have an economic impact greater than tourism and travel combined, delivering 3 percent of the gross domestic product to the national economy in billions of dollars. As summarized by the City Task Force study, the attention to the growth of art in Annapolis can boost our local economy.

Founded in 2000 by unanimous action of the City Council, the Art in Public Places Commission has made its mark in the City. On city buildings, parking lots, the walls of community institutions such as the Stanton Center and City Hall, and in more than 15 additional public spaces, outdoor visual art is a feast for your eyes.

National grants have also supported the Commission’s ability to fund additional ventures, including the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s international competition for a newly composed symphony to celebrate Annapolis’ 300th Charter Anniversary.

The Art in Public Places movement to make art more accessible to the public was initiated in the 1930s by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It took another 50 years before the effort to open up public parks and places to art finally took flight. And it happened when community leaders recognized the boost art and culture added to local economies. By its actions in 2000 to create the Art in Public Places Commission, the City of Annapolis joined with cities across America to enhance quality of life for their citizens, fanned by culture and the arts. Annapolis has an abundance of culture and art. The City is a fun town to visit. With some organized bragging, Annapolis—an art gallery without walls—will flourish.