The Chatter

Firsthand accounts of what's happening in Baltimore.

By Ron Cassie - July 2014

Overheard at The Baltimore Museum of Art, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, and Maryland Deathfest

Firsthand accounts of what's happening in Baltimore.

By Ron Cassie - July 2014

Born Artists

May 10, 2014
Art Museum Drive

In a crowded gallery not far from the Matisses and Miros of The Baltimore Museum of Art’s contemporary collection, Lucy Dworak-Fisher stands next to her Japanese-style, black-ink piece, “Fall Tree.” It’s a simple, but elegant lined work with a few hand-cut, burnt orange leaves clinging to branches—more scattered around the trunk—set against an austere white-gray backdrop. Dworak-Fisher, in a cotton dress and sneakers, fingernails on one hand painted blue, is reticent, however, about discussing her piece. “She likes to draw, but she’s shy,” her mom smiles. “She agreed to four photographs.”

A Federal Hill Preparatory kindergartener, Lucy’s piece is part of the 8th Annual Baltimore City Public Schools Art Exhibition, presenting 400 works from 90 public schools. Highlights include a found-object portrait of singer Lana Del Rey, a detailed pencil study of an empty school hallway, an 11th grader’s unsentimental street photography, and a middle school girl’s conceptual sculpture depicting the complex world of social media.

Later, The Mount Washington School art teacher Rachel Brander, who explains the annual exhibition is as important to faculty as students—“All you go through in a year, how could you miss a day like this?”—comes across Lucy’s “Fall Tree.”

“What’s that Picasso quote?” Brander asks rhetorically. “‘All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist.’ All kids are artists until third grade. Then they start noticing that their work doesn’t look like someone else’s and they become self-conscious,” Brander continues. “School beats it [their natural creativity] out of them, too. That’s an art teacher’s job—to put it back in.”

One Nation

May 17, 2014
Pratt Street

In the Reginald F. Lewis Museum theater, 10 local people are sharing personal stories, many bittersweet, inspired by the American flag in a program called O Say Can You Feel, related to the current For Whom It Stands exhibition. Joyce Dennison, a veteran, retired Baltimore City teacher, and former Maryland HIV/AIDS hotline director, recalls protesting segregation at the Northwood Shopping Center as a Morgan State student and the Pine Street jail where she was locked up when she considers the flag. She also recalls former U.S. Congressman Barbara Jordan’s words: “What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.”

Walter Jones recites Langston Hughes’s poem, “I, Too, Sing America” and Roderick Howard II recounts the life of Charles Ball, a Calvert County slave who escaped, enlisted, and fought in the War of 1812—only to be captured and sold back into slavery.

Ella Pope reads a letter from her younger brother Calvin, written August 24, 1968, 100 days before his tour in Vietnam was scheduled to end, and just before he was killed. “I could read between the lines that he was anxious to come home,” she says, fighting back tears as the handwritten note is projected overhead.

Finally, native-Mississippian John Wesley Milton describes growing up across the street from Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the men who murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till. “Everyone knew them,” Milton says. “They were the overseers in the field where we all picked cotton.” He also recalls later holding an American flag at a march when he was about Till’s age—until police officers ripped it from him. “Meanwhile, the people cursing us were waving rebel flags.

“I flashed back to second-grade when we stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. And I thought, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’”

Metal Age

May 25, 2014
North High Street

By 10 a.m., while health-conscious, organic-food-loving crowds sip fresh-ground coffee and cheerfully sort through locally grown produce at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar, a darker horde, literally—dressed almost entirely in black T-shirts—is gathering outside a vacant lot across the street.

This is final day of Maryland Deathfest XII—“America’s biggest metal party of the year”—and soon 4,000 tattooed, pierced fans of doom, death, speed, black, stoner, thrash, and grindcore (no music genre has more subgenres than metal) will be headbanging below the Orleans Street overpass.

Today’s big-name acts include Sweden’s Candlemass and the U.K.’s Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, but Charm City’s own Misery Index gets the sunburned mosh pit roiling early with a deafening, scorched-earth set. “This is my sixth Deathfest, and I came to see about 10 bands, but Misery Index was one of them,” says Pedro Velazco, a sportswriter who has driven from Kokomo, IN, for the four-day festival. “I’m 43 and I still call myself a death-metal kid.”

There are loads of merch tables here, along with beer and margarita stands, and labels, like Relapse Records, offering their wares. By mid-afternoon, food vendors such as Zombie Barbeque, Headbanging Hotdogs (100 percent vegan), and Pork Lord Tacos—with upscale Bluegrass Tavern executive chef Tim Dyson manning the grill—are busy.

“Oh yeah, different crowd than we get in Federal Hill,” Dyson laughs. “This is for fun—‘Pork Lord’ is my nickname at the restaurant. I was in a high-school band and we played this shit. I love it.”

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