Category Archives: Events

Seeing Color: A Conversation About Race & Art 

Alison Saar. Strange Fruit. 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Contemporary Art Endowment Fund. BMA 1995.122

Alison Saar. Strange Fruit. 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Contemporary Art Endowment Fund. BMA 1995.122

Numerous events throughout the country and in our own city this past spring have challenged our staff to think about race and its representation in art. In Baltimore and other cities we have been prompted to reexamine symbols such as Confederate monuments, while elsewhere confederate flags glorifying the racial injustice advocated by the Confederacy are finally being removed from some public buildings, addressing a painful chapter in history—and a continuing reality—for many Americans. With its important collections of African and African-American art, The Baltimore Museum of Art seeks to bring conversation about this topic through a panel discussion at the Museum on Saturday, November 14 entitled Seeing Color: A Conversation About Race & Art.

It is especially meaningful to convene such a conversation within the context of an art museum. Whether intentionally or less deliberately, artists have frequently addressed challenging topics such as race, identity, and social justice. Artistic expression brings personal interpretation to the consideration of such issues.  Our own points of view are challenged as new interpretations are brought forward challenging our pre-conceptions.   

Rodney Foxworth, advisor for social impact ventures, will moderate a discussion that brings fresh insights to this larger discourse and sheds new light on challenging artworks at the BMA. These include artworks that appear uncritical about racial inequality such as a portrait by John Hesselius of Charles Calvert and His Slave and artworks that confront us by calling attention to racism and social injustice such as Alison Saar’s sculpture Strange Fruit.

The scholars and artists who are participating in the panel will bring a variety of perspectives to the conversation. The panelists are Dr. Sheri Parks, Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities at University of Maryland, Dr. James Smalls, art historian and professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, Ailish Hopper, poet and professor at Goucher College, and Susan Harbage Page, artist and professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

We hope you will join us for this important conversation on November 14, if not in person, then here on the blog. What would you like to know about these artworks and others at the BMA? 

Jay Fisher
Interim Co-Director

You See Out. No One Sees In.

Angels Over Rowhouse Collington - Anna Pasqualucci

Angels Over Rowhouse Collington – Anna Pasqualucci

Elaine Eff, Maryland State folklorist

Painted screens—a Baltimore icon—first appeared in the city 1913, one year ahead of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Their origin is traced to William Oktavec, a Bohemian grocer who painted the screen doors of his corner store with pictures of the produce and meats he sold. From outside, you could not see beyond his handiwork. From inside, you had a clear view to the street.

The virtue of privacy was not lost on his neighbors, whose homes had no buffer from the sidewalk. Little Bohemia was awash with new rowhomes, taverns, corner stores, churches, schools and every amenity required to secure a new community. Soon “Oktavec the butcher,” became “Oktavec the artist,” opening The Art Shop, where he trained his sons and a few chosen apprentices in the art of screen painting.

As business grew, Oktavec borrowed images from calendars and greeting cards to paint the wire mesh. Soon, the red roofed mill or cottage became synonymous with the painted screens, which were in such demand that by the 1960s dozens of artists and dabblers had completed around 200,000 windows and door screens.

Flash forward to the 1980s.
The Painted Screen Society was founded in 1985 as a guild of screen painters, quickly becoming a community and regional non-profit to promote and preserve rowhouse arts. Painters led demonstrations and workshops. Emerging artists worked alongside masters. The Maryland State Arts Council supported apprenticeships through its folklife program, Maryland Traditions. A new breed of painters emerged, whose subjects – abstracts, portraits, and narrative scenes– would have once been unimaginable.

Screens may have diminished in numbers, but neighborhoods like Highlandtown and Canton have kept the tradition alive. Explore Eastern Avenue below Conkling Street, the Patterson Theater, Highlandtown Gallery and DiPasquale’s Italian Deli/Pompeii area for some real surprises. (Walking tour maps are available from HA! and the Painted Screen Society.)

You are invited to try your hand at painting screens at the BMA’s Imagining Home Opening Celebration on October 25, 11am-5pm. Artists Anna Pasqualucci and John Iampieri, both self-taught, bring their memories of discovering screens as youngsters in old Baltimore to bear in their very contemporary work. They share their skill and enthusiasm, as well as the secrets of screen painting.

Elaine Eff has chronicled Baltimore’s unique folk art since the 1970s when thousands of painted screens covered row house windows and doors throughout the city. She will be eager to listen to your memories, and sign the book The Painted Screens of Baltimore: An Urban Folk Art Revealed at Sunday’s event.

Arabbers - John Iampieri

Arabbers – John Iampieri

Home is Where the Healing Happens

Olivia June Fite, OHerbals

During a workshop I was leading at an International Woman’s Day celebration I asked participants to share “What home remedies do you remember from your childhood?” It was amazing to hear as the woman recalled, sometimes with difficulty and sometimes with joyful certainty, the healing that happened at home.

It is a question that is rarely asked and in today’s modern times more often forgotten. Whether it is gripe water for a colicky baby, onion syrup for a cough, or a good old Epsom salt foot soak, there is a tremendous amount of healing that has happened at the hands of parents, grandparents, friends, and even the neighborhood natural healer.

My work as a community educator and as a wellness clinician often focuses on re-introducing these easy and vital self/family care techniques to folk. It is always a process of excitement & empowerment. I love showing people the medicine that is growing up & out of our city sidewalks and backyards. I live for watching folks make their first vinegar infusion. I am even astonished when I try new remedies that others have passed on to me.

Holding the knowledge & skills of home healing can be money & time savers as well. If you have a spice rack in your house you also have lots of good medicine. Modern science is slowly catching up as papers are published on the healing powers of saffron, turmeric, and garlic. We cannot forget that people have known this for a long time through a different type of wisdom and investigation.

Home remedies also remind us that we are part of a larger matrix, interconnected with nature. We owe it to ourselves, and the future generations, to keep that knowledge alive. When we care for those around us with food, joy & plant medicine, we are practicing the oldest and most tested form of healing, and it can happen right here at home.

Recipe for Onion Syrup

  • In a ½ pint glass Mason jar, layer slices of white onion and sugar until jar is filled. You should be able to fit about 4 layers in the jar.
  • Seal with a clean lid. Give it a good shake to spread the sugar to cover the onion slices.
  • Watch over the next two days as the sugar dissolves the onions.
  • Strain what is left of the onions out of the syrup.
  • Store syrup for 2 months in the fridge.
  • Use 1 teaspoon in hot tea to help with coughs and colds.

You can learn more about Olivia’s work with home remedies at the BMA’s Imagining Home Opening Celebration, Sunday, October 25, 2015. In this free and festive day-long event enjoy creative art-making activities, fascinating demonstrations, lively performances, and intriguing in-gallery conversations that engage with the deep, varied, and complex connections we all have to home.


Falling in love with home movies

Parmer Leroy Miller – Parmer & Roose Miller’s Family Reunion Trip to Illinois, 1930

Parmer Leroy Miller – Parmer & Roose Miller’s Family Reunion Trip to Illinois, 1930

This Sunday, the BMA will play host to its first Home Movie Day as part of the the Imagining Home Opening Celebration. Dwight Swanson is on the Board of Directors for The Center for Home Movies, and spoke to BMA Museum Educator Jessica Braiterman about his love of home movies.

JB: Why do home movies capture your imagination?
DS: I started falling in love with home movies for two contradictory reasons–first, because of how familiar they are–I could recognize something of myself and my life, or my family’s life, across generations and across cultures, since in a lot of ways people have kind of always been the same no matter where they are from. On the other hand, though, there are moments that completely surprise me, like when a moviemaker comes up with a new way of looking at something, or some event or place that I never would have been able to feel so deeply if someone hadn’t captured it in their camera.

JB: What can they reveal about us, our culture, what we care about?
DS: Some home movies are historically important because they are the best or only documentation of something, and what matters is the content…what is revealed in the frame–the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination is obvious example here, but it could also be of a long-gone building in our neighborhood. More complicated, though, are the little bits of unspectacular, everyday life, and what we can learn by looking at those. One question that I’m interested in is why people choose to film what they do? Sometimes the answer is obvious–people always bring cameras on vacations, because they are seeing something new. People like me who have watched a lot of home movies tend to get most excited about scenes of everyday life in the past (like shopping, or pumping gas) that were not usually filmed. I was taught a long time ago by someone who had been working with home movies for decades, that what I should look for in the films is gestures. These brief moments, maybe a glance, or a movement, may not teach me about history or culture in any broad sense, but they can be really powerful in showing us bursts of humanity across time.

JB: What is one of your favorite moments from a home movie—perhaps one of the best surprises or a deeply poetic moment?
DS: One of the projects I have been working on for several years now is “Home Grown Movies,” which grew out of Home Movie Day, and shows some of the favorite films discovered by the local Home Movie Day hosts at their events. Last year, one of the contributions was a home movie of a family reunion shot on a farm in Illinois in 1930. There are some wonderful scenes of the family at home and at work on the farm, looking a lot like what I’d imagined a Depression-era farm to look like, but what I wasn’t expecting was when the men playing banjo, guitar and fiddle in a string band were suddenly joined by a bobbed-hair girl (one of the family members) dancing the Charleston with a lot of gusto. Its moments like that show me that I need to forget a lot of my assumptions, and remember that people have always had the ability to surprise us.

JB: Tell me a little about your project Amateur Night: Home Movies from American Archives
DS: Amateur Night is a feature length 35mm compilation of home movies and amateur films compiled from 16 film archives. It was developed as a way of highlighting the wonderful work being done by moving image archivists and preservation laboratories to try to capture our history on film. I picked the films that I did to try to show the diversity that home movie show, which is something that they’re not usually given credit for. The movies come from all across American and cover nearly a century of images. They also range from very typical home scenes to elaborately constructed stories. The goal was really to put together a show that would entertain or intrigue any type of audience.

JB: Are there any special moments in the upcoming screening at the BMA that you are really excited about? Can you give us a little teaser?
DS: One of my favorites is an edited film that is a portrait of a woman named Pucky that tells her story through home movies and videos and friends and family talking about her always perfectly-coiffed hairstyles. I’m really happy that films are from as early as the 1920s and as recent as a few months ago. Not all of them were shot in Baltimore, but the ones that were really capture the people of our city.

Dina Fiasconaro Pucky's Pappagallo

Dina Fiasconaro Pucky’s Pappagallo

Monkeying Around with a Meiping Vase

Jingdezhen kilns. Meiping with Lotus Decoration. c. 1500. Origin: Jiangxi province, China. Gift of William C. Whitridge, Stevenson, Maryland. BMA 1979.126

Jingdezhen kilns. Meiping with Lotus Decoration. c. 1500. Origin: Jiangxi province, China. Gift of William C. Whitridge, Stevenson, Maryland. BMA 1979.126

Melanie Lester, Goh’s Kung Fu

This Sunday, students and instructors from Goh’s Kung Fu will perform a lion dance and martial arts demonstration on the BMA’s iconic stairs for the Museum’s Asian Art Celebration. We have partnered with a team of visual artists from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to produce props and costumes for the show. (Full disclosure – I teach at both schools.)

Choosing the right artwork for the performance
When we first started planning the performance we knew that we wanted to include visual elements pulled from pieces in the collection.

Because fragile artworks and martial arts don’t always go together we decided to recreate this Meiping vase out of foam. The foam replica vase is a catalyst for the narrative of our show. It entices the monkey character, gets stolen, and angers our sleepy lions into action. The show culminates when the vase is returned finally and the lions have a joyous celebratory dance.

This is not something you’d want to do with a 500 year old porcelain vase.

This is not something you’d want to do with a 500 year old porcelain vase.

The Meiping vase stood out to us for a few reasons: jugs and vases have historically been used in certain styles of Chinese kung fu (like drunken styles), the large motif would be easily visible to the audience, and the lotus symbol on the vase sometimes represents qualities martial artists strive to gain from their practice, such as longevity, humility, honor and tranquility.

Making the Vase
The first steps were to come up with a pattern and decide on materials. Kevin Law used open source software to create a 3D model of the vase.

Screenshot (4)

Goh’s Kung Fu recently built a new space for our martial arts studio and had leftover foam from the floor that we were able to recycle for this project. It is the perfect material because it is lightweight and durable.


Foam proved to be the perfect base.

After we cut and shaped the vase in foam we painted a base coat.

After we cut and shaped the vase in foam we painted a base coat.


While we were working we kept an image of the actual Meiping vase and tried to stay true to its shape.


We sanded and painted several times to seal the surface of the foam.

Jhenny Adams meticulously copied the motif.

Jhenny Adams meticulously copied the motif.

Jhenny blocked in colors and shapes first and then went back to add detail.

Jhenny blocked in colors and shapes first and then went back to add detail.

With paints leftover from other projects and purchased with a generous grant from the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art we made the piece of foam look as close to the Meiping vase as possible.

This is our monkey character played by Nicholas Wright-Sieloff doing an aerial while holding the vase during rehearsal.


I hope to see you at the show!

Thanks to the BMA for letting us share some of our process during the build for this performance. Thank you to Goh’s Kung Fu for having amazing martial artists to work with. And thank you to the MICA Office of Community Engagement for funding the supplies used to create our visual elements.

The BMA’s Asian Art Celebration will be held from 11am – 5pm on Sunday, June 28th, 2015. All are welcome to attend this fun-filled day of music, dance performances, and activities inspired by the newly renovated galleries for the Asian art collection.


Melanie Lester began teaching costume and other garment related topics at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006.  She started practicing kung fu at Goh’s Kung Fu in 2005.  Though seemingly very different fields, both garment construction and martial arts require similar repetition and practice to achieve even the slightest improvement.  “Focus, repetition and practice” is the mantra behind all of Melanie Lester’s teaching philosophy.

Interview with traditional Yoruba carver Lukman Alade Fakeye


Photo of Lukman Alade Fakeye in front of doors carved by his uncle Lamide Olonade Fakeye. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Born into a famous family of West African master carvers, Lukman Alade Fakeye continues the legacy, creating traditional Yoruba wood carvings. His great grandfather’s Epa Society Mask is on view in the new presentation of the BMA’s African Art collection—one of the most important African collections in the United States.

Lukman recently spoke with museum educator Jessica Braiterman about growing up in his father’s studio and the Epa Ceremonial Mask that represents women’s reproductive and spiritual powers during Epa festivals.

JB: How would have the BMA’s Epa Society Mask by your great-grandfather been used?

LAF: It was a ceremonial mask worn during my great grandfather’s life time. When the time for the Epa festival arrives, the mask would be worn by one of the priests to dance and bless people with prayers. The carving of the mother depicted on the mask was used to acknowledge the important role of women in our community and to pay homage to our ancestors. The mask is always kept in a shrine when not in use for the festival and elders bring offerings for the mask and say prayers.

JB: Tell me about your training as a wood carver? When did you begin to learn wood carving and who taught you?

LAF: I spent my childhood playing with my late father, Akin Fakeye, in his workshop and at the same time studying him and my brothers, Sulaiman and Akeem, who were also working in the studio. As a young kid I didn’t realize that this was part of learning process for me. The more I stayed and played in the studio, the more I absorbed. It was like storing information in a computer memory. I used to play in the studio with abandoned tools and wood with some childhood friends and my father used to tell us stories about his grandfather and his father and other great carvers. All the stories he used to tell us inspired me to learn the family tradition.

Photo of Lukman's father Akin Fakeye. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Photo of Lukman’s father Akin Fakeye. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

By the time I was 9-12 years old, I would head to the studio around 6 a.m. to sweep and clean the studio before going to school. After school, I would return to the studio to eat and study my father while carving. That was my daily routine as a young boy and I was determined to learn the family tradition. Over time, my father taught me how to use different kinds of carving tools and many other things about traditional Yoruba wood carving.

Photo of Lukman working in his studio. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Photo of Lukman working in his studio. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

JB: What were some of the hardest things to learn?

LAF: As a beginner every aspect of learning is always hard. During this stage, everything is made by hand, we don’t use machine tools. For me [personally], the hardest thing to learn was to make the base balance on the floor.

JB: What’s it like being part of a prestigious wood carving family? Was there lots of pressure to carry on the family tradition?

LAF: I am very proud to be born into the Fakeye family and be one of the carvers of the Fakeye dynasty. I think there is some pressure to carry on the family tradition, because my brother and I need to take it to the next level and maintain the family legacy and tradition to the fullest.

JB: What piece are you most proud of?

I am very proud of every Fakeye carving, especially my father’s and my uncle Lamidi Fakeye’s work because they are all beautiful masterpieces. A few of my favorites are the 13’ statue of Oduduwa at Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile Ife, Nigeria and the carved doors by my father at the Catholic mission house in Ibadan, Nigeria. As for my work, I am most proud of the 7’ long carved dining table with 6 chairs.

Photo of Lukman's recent hand-carved dining room table and chairs. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Photo of Lukman’s recent hand-carved dining room table and chairs. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.


JB: What are your future aspirations?

LAF: To continue the family legacy and take it to the next level. I want to be able to teach youth and adults around the world about traditional Yoruba wood carving techniques and the Fakeye family history.

I would love to have a Fakeye Museum of Yoruba Art and an institute to teach Yoruba art and the Fakeye dynasty so that the family tradition continues.

The expanded and renovated African galleries debut on Sunday, April 26 during a free day-long celebration, with musical performances, art-making, gallery conversations that highlight the diversity of contemporary and traditional African art, and more. 

How to Collect Art: Tips for New Collectors


Collectors at the 2012 Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.

The Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair (March 27-29) is a biennial fair that brings printers, publishers, and dealers to Baltimore for one weekend to sell the latest in contemporary prints and multiples. Ranging from emerging to blue chip artists, and from $500 to $50,000, there is something for everybody. The BCPF provides a wonderful opportunity for younger and first-time collectors to add reasonably priced works of art by today’s best makers, and also offers visitors the opportunity to engage directly with the people who worked with the artists to make the prints. Staff from many of the country’s most important print studios will be on hand to tell you about their experiences and help you understand how the prints were made. It’s a not-to-miss event. In addition, to make visitors feel welcome, Museum staff will be on hand to offer guidance throughout the weekend.

If you are a first-time collector, or just looking for a better experience buying art, these tips might help.

The Basics
The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) defines an original print as a work of art on paper that has been conceived by the artist to be realized as a print, rather than as a reproduction of a work in another medium. There is always a fuzzy line between posters and prints, but suffice it to say, at the BCPF, visitors will be looking at original prints.

While most prints at the BCPF are very recent, the first thing to consider when looking at any potential purchase is condition. Check to make sure the print hasn’t been compromised, meaning it’s not scratched, torn, wrinkled, or too yellowed. You want the paper to be free of marks, creases, and dents.

Technical knowledge
If you like an image but are unfamiliar with the techniques used to realize it, ask the dealer to help you understand better. There are lots of glossaries around that describe printmaking techniques. A handy one can be found on the IFPDA’s website here:

We can’t emphasize enough the value of engaging the vendors in conversation. They are there to help you understand not only the technical aspects of a work of art, but also to help you understand what the artist was thinking; as we say in the department, the “what’s the what”.

Making a purchase
When it comes to making a purchase, please know the deal is between you and the vendor. Negotiating is part of the deal. Don’t be afraid to ask if a discount is available; it can’t hurt to try!

The bottom line on purchasing art is that purchases should not be made based on the speculative future value of the object, but it should be bought because you love it and want to live with it.

Once a purchase has been made, you’ll want to frame the work. There are many good framers in the Baltimore metro area. The museum can recommend several who will treat your purchase well. The quality of the materials the framer uses is important. The bottom line: pay for the best materials you can afford.

Care at home
Bringing your purchase home is always exciting. When considering placement within your home, several factors come into play. When possible, steady climate control is best. Dampness and heat should be avoided in the area where the print is stored, if possible. Be sure to keep your print out of direct sunlight as this can also cause damage to the ink and paper. If your print is unframed, be sure to store it flat to keep the edges from curling and/or tearing.
More information on how to care for your work on paper.

The Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair will be held at the BMA March 28-29, 2015. See the website for full details about exhibitors, and special events. Entry to the event is free for BMA Members. Tickets for non-members are $15 for both days, and $10 for one. Students and teachers with a valid I.D. are free. 


We heart art!

Auguste Rodin. The Thinker. Original model 1880; this cast 1904‑1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Jacob Epstein Collection, BMA 1930.25.1

Auguste Rodin. The Thinker. Original model 1880; this cast 1904‑1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Jacob Epstein Collection, BMA 1930.25.1

Last weekend, we celebrated Valentine’s Day at the BMA by asking visitors to share their love for art, and place a paper heart on the floor in front of an artwork crush. We had a great time watching people decide which works of art deserved their love. One couple wandered around the BMA for hours, hearts clutched in their hands, debating which work was their favorite. Dozens of children ran up to the Welcome Desk multiple times, unable to choose only one work of art to love.


In three days, there were 1705 hearts placed next to the works of art. From that, your most loved works were:

61 hearts Auguste Rodin The Thinker Original model 1880; this cast 1904-1917
48 hearts Edgar Degas Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen Original model 1881; this cast 1919-1921.
29 hearts Nick Cave Soundsuit 2013
28 hearts Louis Comfort Tiffany Window: Baptism of Christ c. 1897
23 hearts Henri Matisse Purple Robe and Anemones 1937
23 hearts Pablo Picasso Mother and Child 1922
20 hearts Auguste Rodin The Kiss Original model c. 1880-1881; this cast before 1923
20 hearts Dario Robleto American Seabed 2014
19 hearts Hugh Finlay Center Table 1820-1830
18 hearts Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot Thatched Village (Flesselles, near Amiens) 1864

Visitors were also invited to photograph their heart and favorite work of art, and post to Instagram or Twitter, tagged with #artbma #heartsforart for a chance to win a BMA Catalogue. We are pleased to announce that @draloysius (Twitter) was the winner. We’ll be in touch to discuss how you can collect your prize.

Thank you everyone who participated in #heartsforart. We loved seeing what you love. It made our week!

Our Visitor Services team loved being part of #heartsforart.

Our Visitor Services team loved being part of #heartsforart.

Much love for Nick Cave. Soundsuit. 2013. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Ellen W. P. Wasserman Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.325. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Much love for Nick Cave. Soundsuit. 2013. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Ellen W. P. Wasserman Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.325. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Edgar Degas. Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Original model 1881; this cast 1919‑1921. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice Morawetz Bequest Fund, BMA 1943.1

Edgar Degas. Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Original model 1881; this cast 1919‑1921. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice Morawetz Bequest Fund, BMA 1943.1




The Art of Cleaning and Cleaning as Art


Artist Megan Hildebrandt will kick-off the BMA’s American Wing Reopening Celebration on Sunday, November 23 at 10:00 am with a great Baltimore tradition – step scrubbing. BMA educator Jessica Braiterman caught up with Megan to find out more about the step scrubbing.

JB: How did you get started with your step-scrubbing project?

MH: The project began in the spring of 2008. Local history was very central to my practice at that time, and I had been researching the history of Baltimore, specifically Highlandtown (where I was in residence at Creative Alliance). I came across Aubrey Bodine’s amazing (however staged) photographs of women and children step-scrubbing. Asking some locals about the tradition, they all remembered it as an essential ritual of life, a weekly routine that underscored the importance of community via the front marble stoop. I wondered why I rarely saw anyone scrubbing their steps anymore. The few I did see scrubbing had a lot in common– many of the women wore housedresses and even had their hair in curlers – and maybe had an average age of 60. It was as though the tradition was nearly gone, and these women were the keepers of it. So I began to scrub. Every Saturday Morning.

JB: What are some of the more memorable experiences while scrubbing people’s steps in Baltimore?

MH: I remember how warmly I was greeted by people. I think I caught them off-guard pretty often, offering a service for free. But they did pay me in their own ways. Many would stand outside and offer tips about how to better scrub, what product was best to use on marble (Bonami!), and memories of their brothers and sisters taking turns with the chore. Highlandtown in 2008 was really changing a lot – many Polish families who had lived in those rowhouses for decades, many new immigrants from all over the world who had just moved in, and every color person you can imagine. In this way, I sometimes acted as an introduction to a ritual in their new neighborhood; sometimes as a reminder; sometimes a student; sometimes a teacher. My job changed with every door I knocked on.

JB: Did you gain a new appreciation for cleaning as a result?

MH: The task at  hand of scrubbing was an immediate way to engage my audience. Once I was cleaning their steps, we had something to talk about. I have always appreciated the way labor allows for a fluidity, a sense of being alongside, a closeness. And the repetition involved in scrubbing definitely has echoes in my other artwork.

JB: How has step-scrubbing informed or connected to your other artistic practices?

MH: As I said, repetition and ritual is a main tenant of my work at present. I believe it does trace directly to the Do Your Steps project. Knowing that every Saturday morning, I was going to walk around East Baltimore for two or three hours and scrub steps gave me a wonderful structure in which to work. The same can be said of my autobiographical drawings. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2009, working in grid-like formations became another way of repeating an image, and the scale of the drawings was so large they became performative.

JB: What do you hope for the large-scale scrubbing of the BMA’s front steps on November 23?

MH: I hope it to be a visual code, a somewhat quiet poem of history, a bright spectacle. I hope for it to act as a communal unlocking of tradition – perfect for the 100th anniversary.

You can join Megan on November 23 at 10:00 am for some elbow-greasing fun on the BMA’s front steps. Don your best apron and rubber gloves and join Hildebrandt to scrub the BMA’s front steps. Register ahead of time by emailing the artist at:

Stay for performances, storytelling, art activities and more throughout the whole day at the museum.

The step scrubbing project has been generously sponsored by Faultless Starch/Bon Ami.

Photo credits from left: Courtesy of the artist; Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine • © Jennifer B. Bodine • Courtesy of

Mapping Home at Mildred’s Lane


Katie Bachler is an artist and the 2014 Meadows Fellow at The Baltimore Museum of Art. In July, she spent a week mapping notions of home at Mildred’s Lane – a contemporary art complex(ity), situated deep in the woods of rural northeastern Pennsylvania. These are her reflections.

I was invited to go make a map of the layers of a place; of the home as the natural world and all the tiny tendrils of what grow on the land – the ferns and the weeping moss walls – the blue Marsalis shale. The cups and bowls, the caring of the body, how the towels are hung over the edge of the sink, a garden for growing food, the places we walk in the morning, shared meals, the way that the counters get wiped with a sponge… All of these acts are part of the Mildred’s Lane complex, a home-space that is a laboratory and school about how to live, how to create systems of engagement that are unique and outside of the dominant modes of production in the art world as object making and exchanging. What if all of the parts of life are treated with as much care as the art objects themselves?


I was invited to look at the complexity of this site, by talking with people and learning how to live in an intentional way, my hands holding objects in a new way; Mildred’s Lane became a home through the mapping of it. This is a story of that process.


Through the many hills that make up the state of Pennsylvania – the marble of Wilkes Barre – the great Delaware River Gap where people live off the land and the Hudson River school painters felt the thrill of light – exist the possibilities of what could be around a bend or the edge of some far away hills, and the romanticism of what was not the city in a time of the industrial revolution. It prompts a question: Where do we go to feel like ourselves; a parallel need for a wild place as the urban becomes future-like, not stopping, not us, not now.

Over a bridge that was a drawbridge painted green, and that rumbles underneath the tires as we drive, artists who wanted to make a life that was everything that a life is, moved up here in 1996 to build a home on some land; a home that started as a slab of concrete. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, who had been a part of perhaps the last great swell of galleries and spaces in NYC in the early 1990s with American Fine Arts began making art to return to life; to all of the singular events and decisions that make up a moving life. A home is a place to learn about how to live together. A home is a shared intentional world. Puett calls it entanglement, workstyles, comportment. The creation of a language to name the specificity of a world.


How to map what matters to people, to map a relationship between city and country, between land and people?  A map is a changing organism that responds to space and time, and to the people who relate to it, who create it, who feel the woods and the way the paint peels off of buildings, or the light hits a long table in the evening as we prepare a meal on zig-zag tables, with upside down cups, in a way that is called workstyles because everything is done with intention.


Creating a map with people becomes about mapping a way of being, a specificity of a human intention to make a new sort of place, one with its own order and ways of investigating the components of a human existence, how we make decisions, how we live together in a world that is based on capitalist modes of production much of the time.


What if all modes of life are self-determined? Is this kind of utopia possible? Maybe it is my job to map it, but then to think of the map as a shifting exploration of a place. A map of any kind of utopia has to be open to change, so I make a growing map, an open map.


I will go back for a weekend in August to keep working on it, and for time after that as well, being in time and through time.