The BMA Outpost is a portable museum that is taking up temporary residence in a variety of communities throughout Baltimore City, led by the BMA’s Amy and Marc Meadows Education Fellow Katie Bachler.
I spent October and November of 2014 in Reservoir Hill at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center – an old house turned church turned community center and after school program. The center hosts 43 students every day, and they work on projects and school work in rooms that were once bedrooms, with old fireplaces, and carved wood decorations. This was a home for the Outpost, our folding museum set up by the bus stop at the corner of Linden and Whitelock Streets, with reproductions of The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz and A Quick Nap by Walter Williams displayed in the sun. People from the neighborhood stopped by every day to chat, to share a story, to add to the map of what matters to them in the neighborhood. The kids were happy to see me every day, saying “art, art, art!” as they walked by or got off the bus. This corner became a home, and residents became familiar with me as a bit of extra street architecture and a source of conversation.
This neighborhood was once home to wealthy business owners, who lived in three story brick homes, with marble staircases, decorative windows, and iconic spired roofs that glowed in the sunlight at the end of the day. These were and are grand homes, some with gutter systems that would bring rainwater into the kitchen for washing dishes.
Reservoir Hill was known as Jonestown, the original site along the Jones Falls where the Englishman David Jones claimed land, and built along the water, like people tend to do all over the world – growth happens around water. The land was filled with oaks, and small streams, in a time when Baltimore was growing, and land was available to claim. Druid Hill Park was once rural land outside of the city of Baltimore, whose northernmost boundary was North Avenue. Sheep grazed near untouched forests. Everyone put Druid Hill Lake on his or her map; it is the anchor of the neighborhood, a place to relax and walk and think and breathe.
There was a perfectly circular reservoir known as the Mt Royal Reservoir that brought water to half of the city’s residents in the 1850s, at the old entrance to Druid Hill Park, the remains of which are still flanked by two large marble posts. The city was growing then. The Jones Falls was a source of clean water, helping Baltimore to become a booming industrial town, immigrants flowing in to help create and alter the economic conditions of the city. Water was home.
The past is remembered in places, in the height and material reality of buildings, and what was cared about and what was given weight, given names, given space, like the gardens along Linden Avenue, which was once known as the Garden Path, and was manicured, and existed as an entrance to Druid Hill Park.
The stories I hear from residents now are still about home—about family, about eating dinner, about hanging out on the corner, and how the roofs of the neighborhood houses look so cool. I spoke with Juanita, who lives on a short street behind the St. Francis Neighborhood Center where there used to be the garden, as she walked past the Outpost. She remarked, “you have to smile at people, it makes it a place here, it makes it home.” Juanita’s little dog Sammy walks beside her. They are connected.
The BMA Outpost will be located at the Govans Branch of the Enoch Pratt library from mid-January through mid-February. You can join us to experience art in public, and map your own journey to home.