Monday, October 8, 2012

Vintage Electric Fan Fascination

"Peerless Sideways" oil on canvas paper (16" x 12")
Baseball or no baseball, the weather has suddenly become very "autumnesque" here in Crabtown. Time to throw the furnace switch and drag out the quilts for bedding. Gosh, we're almost to the flannel sheet stage. But my collection of vintage electric fans will remain in view even when the snow begins to fall.
 I can't help it. I like looking at them. In fact I like them so much that this summer I spent time doing paintings of them. Some are labeled with familiar names like General Electric, Westinghouse and Peerless but others call themselves Zero, Eskimo and Polar Cub. Some are working and some are too unsafe to plug in. Here are a few of the paintings inspired by my whirring cast-iron and metal companions.

"General Electric" oil on canvas ( 20" x 16")

    This modest little fan  (above) was my first and it's the one I use every warm day in my studio.

"Big and Noisy" oil on board (18" x 18")
 She can no longer look side to side on her own. But she is a beauty.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


“Old Bay and Natty Boh and News”  2011
oil paint on board (16” x 20”)
As a collector of McCormick and other brands of spice tins, from time to time I like to compare the old to the new. The 1950 container of  Old Bay Seafood Seasoning (included in the painting above) features a crab, a shrimp and a lobster on the cardboard package topped by a golden tin lid. Baltimore Spice Company is given credit as the manufacturer since McCormick did not yet have the label. At some point the Old Bay label changed from “Seafood Seasoning” to “Seasoning for Seafood, Poultry, Salads and Meats." Look for yourself, it’s there on your pantry shelf now with a red plastic lid. National Bohemian beer bottles have changed, too. I have a few of the early rocket style bottles (one included here in the painting).  Mister Boh has evolved from a vague, one-eyed, yet fully mustachioed, character to a much bolder graphic version of himself. Even though our hometown beer, brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, moved out of state several years ago, the loyal following remains in Baltimore. In fact the Boh-mania among young people seems stronger than ever.  We just love our steamed crabs and beer !

Monday, August 6, 2012


“Ingleside Shopping Center” 2003
oil on board (40” x 30”)
I have many memories of this shopping center which launched the migration of Catonsville's Frederick Road Village commerce to Route 40 West. The first Giant Food grocery store in Baltimore, MD was located right here.  No longer were we shopping at the A&P or Acme or Heidelbach's all located very close to home on Frederick Road. Now we drove to the big parking lot on the busy highway. The friendly staff at the new Giant became familiar with our family and learned our weekly shopping habits. First stop was the produce section where the clerk always smiled at me as I waited in line to have him weigh the bananas. I loved that he wrote the price in black crayon on the biggest banana in the bunch. The kind lady donning her dutch-girl hat and uniform in the Heidi Bakery always gave us a delicious cookie to two. The big, clean store had a lounge located behind the live lobster tank. There you could buy a coke for six cents from the bright red vending the machine. Next to that were the restrooms where the toilet seats sprung to an upright position and were illuminated with bright white lights as if to kill all the germs. I avoided using this frightening facility. It reminded me of the  mysterious atomic energy fairs.
 Another memory about this brick shopping center was the Woolworth’s Ten Cent Store as we called it. I could buy a wide assortment of things for under a quarter. One time I bought a mermaid for my fish tank and more often I brought home a colorful slab of modeling clay which sold for 19 cents. Spending my allowance in Woolworth’s was a good way to pass the time while my mother was standing in line at the Giant getting her Top Value stamps at the check-out.
The precious Top Value Stamps were saved and redeemed  by  housewives for an assortment of domestic items.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sweet Domino Sugars

Sweet Domino” 2012
oil on board (20” x 24”)
Standing on the piers near the Baltimore Museum of Industry we can ogle the massive Domino Sugars Plant -- one of the last vestiges of Baltimore’s industrial heritage. Hardly a day passes by that a jumbo, hulking freighter is not tied-up to its docks as raw-sugar cargo is unloaded from the ship’s bowels.  The factory was opened for business in 1921 and has been refining sugar to deposit into the bright yellow Domino packages ever since . What grabs everyone’s attention is of course the over-sized, glowing neon sign that lights up our harbor every night. As neon signs continue to disappear, this one gets treated like the royal relic that it is. We all feel that this set of vintage neon tubes somehow belongs to us and that we must protect it.  As our cars zoom by on I 95 its radiant red flush across the horizon is a reassuring image that all is well in Crabtown for another night.

Some people have already asked me why I painted this building since I paint mostly things that no longer exist. Well my simple answer is that I had so many requests for it that I finally just did it. I  tried referring other artists' images since there are so many. However that did not seem to suit the collectors of my work. So I say thank you for your positive response to this one and please know that it was an enjoyable project. Now I want to tour the inside of the refinery.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


"Dry Tug on Canton Pier" oil on canvas (8" x 10") 2012
When I saw this tiny tug boat named the Aqua I sitting there  atop the fractured Canton Pier in East Baltimore, she called out to be painted on my canvas right away. I don't know anything about her only that she seemed forlorn but not forgotten on that sunny spring day. She appears to have some repairs in progress but not recent ones. Aqua I has a mammoth companion nearby named the Savannah who gets a lot of attention from those who desire to tour a de-fueled, nuclear-powered freighter. Savannah was commissioned during the Eisenhower administration's "Atoms for Peace" campaign. Her 1950's mess hall is one of my favorite rooms on the big white ship. (More on her to come so return to this blog later).  Where Aqua I waits, old rubber truck-tires protect her concrete dock from being pounded by stray debris and runaway boats. I hope to return one day soon and see that Aqua I has received some further courtesy and repairs. Otherwise, I might have to fix her myself and chug across the bay while merrily singing "Sailing Down the Chesapeake" to her.
"Savannah" sits on the Canton Pier without her nuclear power. But she keeps Aqua I good company.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Dorsey Speedway, during its 34-year life span, was located off Route 1 near Elkridge in Howard County, MD.  Occasionally our family who enthusiastically embraced a wide range of cars and  commercial trucks went there on summery evenings.  We sat in the grandstands eating delicious french fries and watching the stock cars race around the red dirt track. I remember the dizzying figure 8 shape of the track, too. There are stories about serious race car drivers named Will Dilks and Johnny Roberts who drew from a large fan base. But the racing was secondary to my love of the demolition derbies. Sometimes there was nothing better than watching old cars bang into each other until they could no longer move. It was real bumper cars for earnest adults thought this innocent pre-teen.

Vroommmm Vroooommmmm

Monday, May 28, 2012

PHILADELPHIA -Ferry Boat that worked on the Chesapeake

"Philadelphia Ferry Boat" oil on board (18" x 24") 2012
Who does not get excited at the sight of a ferry boat? The sounds of the cars and buses being loaded has the percussive, clattering rhythm of an island song for me.  The deliberate energy of the crew while hurrying the drivers to maneuver precisely into the compact space on board is exhilarating and nerve wracking. Like all public transportation, they run on deadlines. During the crossings there is always something to do. Perhaps you like to ogle the other passengers while enjoying the spume of the sea.  And then there is the anticipation of the destination at the end of the ferry boat ride.

 You  already know that I sure wish we had ferries back on the Chesapeake Bay. The double-ended ferry in my painting here is named "Philadelphia," but she has an important Baltimore connection. She was built at Chester, PA in 1899 for the Pennsylvania Railroad. They needed this beautiful  ferry boat for their crossings on the Hudson River at New York City. After a while, the Philadelphia served the Pennsy in Baltimore for the crossings to Love Point on Maryland's eastern shore. She was  called "Smoky Joe" as she made her three, daily, 24-mile trips across the bay from Light Street in two hours and 20 minutes. The upper deck had a restaurant which served fresh seafood from Kent Island. "Philadelphia's" last service was in 1948 for the Delaware-New Jersey Ferry Company. She is shown here with a final paint job before being scrapped.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


In the days before air-conditioning, Mago-Vista Beach in Arnold, MD was one of our summertime getaways. My mother would pack us into the car with a picnic lunch and a one or two additional children from the neighborhood and off we’d go. I don’t remember if we wore our bathing suits or changed when we arrived.  The  friendly, family beach was  pleasantly sandy.  I loved the big silver raft that was anchored not too far from shore. We could wade out to it and jump off into the warm water. There was a dance pavilion that the grown ups used for night time dances. According to a web site devoted to Mago-Vista Mr. Benson began building the resort  on the Magothy River  in 1938. There was an amusement park  and houses to rent. How I wish I could recall seeing that. The image here is from my collection of Maryland ephemera. While I don't remember canoes, I do love the bathing suit on our paddler. Some have told me that the Mago-Vista of our youth is long gone and now, but of course, condominiums have taken its place.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

THE LAST POUR - Fort McHenry Tunnel 1985

"The Last Pour" gouache on paper (9" x 12") 1985
  In 1985, during one of my frequent visits on foot to watch the construction workers prepare the highway entrance to the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore, MD, I met a man named “Reds” House. He worked for  the Arundel  Corporation and might as well have had the title “ambassador to the tunnel’s construction.”  He was thrilled by my enthusiasm for his project. At our first meeting he gave me a ride in his "radio car" and we toured the tunnel before it opened to the public. He took great pleasure in explaining the sophisticated fabrication procedure to me. It's hard to believe that a project like this could be accomplished. During our last encounter I was fortunate enough to witness the very last concrete pour of the entire Fort McHenry tunnel. It would complete the link that connected the east coast from Maine to Florida via Interstate Highway 95. “Reds” is in the painting wearing his  hard hat and supervising the concrete as it “cemented” this historic day. It was good to the last drop.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bohemian Baltimore Days of Wine and Movies

What an absolute hoot to read Robert Maier's new book about his trials, errors and successes  surrounding underground movie production in Baltimore and beyond. It made me laugh out loud all by myself over and over.  It is an intelligent and forthcoming memoir describing  his unglamorous yet glamorous life making underground movies. "Low Budget Hell: Making Movies with John Waters" begins before 1973 when I met  Robert in the film department at University of Maryland Baltimore County. I was a naive yet ambitious would-be filmmaker like the other the students in our small group. Robert was extremely supportive of us as we were left on our own to figure out how the equipment worked. As the staff member in charge of the film cage, Robert made sure that the valuable cameras and sound recording equipment were checked out properly.  He suggests in his book that our often absent department head  dreamed of being an independent filmmaker more than he cared to teach.
 Most importantly Robert describes his business and friendship with a younger John Waters still riding the crest of the "Pink Flamingos" wave. John was introduced to the film department members via the aforementioned enterprising professor. Waters had a desire to improve his production quality and they figured the students would provide some intern assistance,too. I remember my initial sighting of Waters  entering the door to the editing room/office where he and another student  quietly edited "Female Trouble" on the precious flatbed Steenbeck. And wasn't that Divine recording obscene sound effects for the film's post production in the screening room -- where students otherwise sat on a waterbed for classes?

On Friday nights hordes of us gathered at Bertha's in Fell's Point for cheap wine (about 50 cents a  glass) and hip conversation about French or Italian cinema. The soundtrack was by Miles Davis, Stan Getz or Gato Barbieri. I think the bartender's name was Brown who played piano in various Baltimore nightclubs.  We dreamed of making films and soaked up all the bohemian atmosphere that we could hold. There was a fooseball table that really provided  a place to lean or sit rather than for sporty amusement. The "restroom" was about on par with any gas station men's room of the 1960's only this one had very imaginative and inspiring graffiti. I loved meeting and watching the characters from Waters' movies. Most of them were friendly yet oh so cool. The mood of this era was what had been sorely missing from my suburban childhood and I felt that I finally found the off beat, colorful and artistic atmosphere where unconventional creativity was encouraged.

"Love Letter to Edie"
by Robert Maier.
  Within this bohemian time frame of my life, in 1975 I worked for Bob as a key grip on his movie "Love Letter to Edie." That is a tale to tell on its own sometime. I  will write about it here later perhaps. Working on "Love Letter" is where I acquired a sincere appreciation for Edith Massey. It was not easy at all for her to remember her lines -  often adding curse words that were not in the script. Whether she realized it or not, Edith gave many of us permission to be what we wanted to be without fear of  ridicule. Edith's thrift shop was close to Bertha's and she was open late for the the bar trade on weekends. Bertha's closed at 1 a.m. when we promptly moved down the street to Pop and Sis's bar called Zeppi's (now John Stevens'). The elderly Pop and Sis served 25 cent beers and so we had our nightcap there. Sis once told me that for her vacation, when they closed the bar for a week or two during the summer, all she wanted to do was sit on her front steps of her row house and watch the neighbors. I knew what she meant. As we closed that bar around 2 a.m. sometimes we'd witness a gang fight, a la West Side Story, in the metered parking lot at the foot of Broadway. Occasionally it ended with a boy getting wounded by a switchblade and the girls crying for their boyfriends. That signaled it was time to head home to my roommates and roaches in Bolton Hill. 
I highly recommend reading "Low Budget Hell." Robert gives an honest and humorous account of just  how low a budget can go. The book is chock full of little gems and secrets. A good example is his description of  Waters' metamorphosis from Prince of Puke to Broadway Musical Darling.  Robert can tell a story and I am so happy that he told this one for now I know I did not imagine some the things I thought I saw during those free-spirited college days. 

For a more information or to purchase visit his web site.  ""Low Budget Hell" is also available  on Amazon.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


"Locust Point Ferry" oil on board (12" x 24")
The waters of Baltimore's inner harbor at one time were teeming with steamboats for work and pleasure. I have spent some recent winter nights reading about this nearly forgotten era of our city. The shipping industry has been around forever it seems but the steamboat era has captured my imagination most of all. Our city's waterfront was jammed with shipbuilders and steamship companies such as Old Bay Line located on Light Street.  Founded as Baltimore Steam Packet Company, the Old Bay line ran dependable steam packets to and from Norfolk, VA. The nearly 100-year-old Merchants and Miners Company had a sturdy building on pier 3 until 1952 when times changed and they were faced with financial woes. The Wilson Line operated cruises from the Pier in Fell's Point. Many remember taking day trips to Tolchester or Betterton on the eastern shore via the Bay Belle owned by this line. I love thinking about this once ultra-efficient way to transport people and products. No cars or trucks on the road meant we had to get ourselves and our work moving by rail or boat. The Locust Point Ferry here in my painting was the property of the Locust Point Ferry Company. They opened for business around 1851 and steamed back and forth between Kerr's Wharf near Fell's Point and Locust Point in south Baltimore. We now have the comparatively dinky water taxis to shuttle us around the harbor but back in the times of steamboats you might ride with a herd of cattle or bales of cotton or hogsheads tobacco. Honestly I like progress but what a thrill it would have been to chug along the malodorous waters of the Patapsco tidal basin powered by a robust steam engine with a mighty walking beam pumping above your head.