By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
Sometimes a hobby becomes more.
When she was a student at Catholic University, Mary Roach was a piano-performance major. She always loved art, however, and brushed up her skills in classes at Montgomery College.
The classes led to a shift in focus. A few of Roach’s fellow students were painting outdoors, and she “fell in love” with the practice.
The term for achieving the effect of natural light and atmosphere by painting outdoors is called “plein air.”
Roach and her friends helped form what became known as Montgomery County Plein Air Artists.
Members of the group have painted “all over the Washington area, though we’re based in the County,” Roach said. “We include all types of artists and media – oils, watercolors, acrylics and pastels.”
Not all the members are full-time artists; they come from “all walks of life,” she added.
Scheduling to get together with other plein air artists at a particular time and place was initially challenging, until Roach’s son’s high-school girlfriend suggested forming a Yahoo group.
“So now we tell others in the group that we’re going to a certain place – and it works. It’s all by word of mouth,” said Roach. “We’re always looking for new members,” Roach said. “We don’t have dues or fees or specific meeting times.”
One precaution members take follows the Girl Scout rule: they never go anywhere alone.
For the past year Plein Air Artists have acted as artists-in-residence at Strathmore, exploring the many buildings, landscapes, walkways, and other features of the center for performing and visual arts.
With all the joys of playing with light, shadow, and the changing landscape, there were disappointments, however. There was the time Roach and her fellow artists “couldn’t wait” to paint in the snow at Strathmore. “We got only an inch and a half,” she laughed.
Now the plein air artists are showing 52 of their works in The Mansion at Strathmore, an early-1900s Colonial Revival building – in the first-floor galleries and along the staircase.
This is the first time Montgomery County Plein Air Artists are exhibiting at Strathmore. Roach said she hoped it would lead to other associations, such as members of the group teaching classes at the art center.
They are not alone, however. The Mansion is actually hosting three exhibits – each “distinct and with its own unique point of view,” said Gabrielle Tillenburg, Strathmore’s visual arts coordinator.
The second-floor galleries of The Mansion feature the 85th Annual Exhibition of Fine Art in Miniature. The exhibit encompasses 700 works by 274 artists from around the world.
“Some are as small as thumbnail or postage stamp, “said Tillenburg. “They include miniature portraits, still lives, sculpture and collage.”
These art works may be tiny, but miniatures are a “very popular form,” she added. “People from all over the Eastern Seaboard participate, and some pieces have arrived from artists in Greece, Israel and Australia. It’s exciting to see new and returning artwork.”
Lastly, the Invitational Gallery of The Mansion hosts a solo show. Entitled “Oil + Light,” the exhibit features still lifes fashioned with oil paint.
Eisele won a prize last year in the Miniatures exhibit. This year he’s focusing on larger-scale works.
“Nick is drawing from the classical realist style of the Old Masters,” said Tillenburg. “He is finding his own voice and space by experimenting with light and shadow – known in art as ‘chiaroscuro techniques’ – as well as with color.”
According to the artist, Tillenburg said, “unexpected compositions create tension, reflection or a narrative that reveals a world of hidden facets waiting to be discovered.
The exhibits continue through Jan. 6, 2019, at The Mansion at Strathmore, at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For more information, visit www.strathmore.org.