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Music, Art, and Beautiful Things

By J. Bowers | Posted 5/11/2005

How could Evergreen House, the opulent 19th-century Italianate manor once owned by white-as-milk railroad magnates, possibly be relevant to 21st-century African-American schoolkids? Artist and Park School curator Peter Bruun recently joined forces with students from the Baltimore Freedom Academy, Johns Hopkins Advanced Writing Seminar, Kids on the Hill, Roland Park Country School, Stadium School, the Park School, and Youthlight, an after-school photography program, to produce Music, Art, and Beautiful Things, a mansion-wide project designed to make the intimidating environment of Evergreen House relevant and accessible to today’s youth.

Not your typical art exhibit, Beautiful Things is an attempt to help Evergreen visitors view the mansion in a different way. To that end, students wrote fiction based in the house, and excerpts from their work are charmingly scattered throughout the rooms, acting as captions to the antique furniture, extensive art collection (featuring many works by Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga, commissioned Raoul Dufe watercolors, and other hidden gems), and ornate, idiosyncratic architecture of the house. For instance, Zuloaga’s monumental portrait of Alice Garrett, one of the ladies of the house, is accompanied by student Aaron Gentzler’s sly observation that “someone had wanted to make a monument of her and her dress, her age, and her freedom from worry.” Overall, the excerpts turn the whole house into a multimedia experience.

Meanwhile, eighth-graders from the Stadium School painted their own versions of Evergreen House rooms, attempting to relate the life of the Garrett family to their own lives. Shanice N. Williams renders the dining room with a slice of pizza on the table (pictured). Iann Moser’s “The Work of Art” tackles the house’s Victorian Bedroom, adding African paintings to the red-draped walls, because “the room was dry.” Moser touches upon a subject addressed by Kids on the Hill’s section of the exhibit, which places sassy portraits of the students underneath a display of all the presidents and political figures whom John Garrett worked with over the years, asking the question, “What if Black History Had Been Documented?” Surrounded by Evergreen’s old-money vibe, this question seems particularly necessary, and Youthlight’s selection of student photographs, placed next to similar archival photos from Evergreen’s collection, drives the point home.

The exhibit closes with 72 small square paintings by Bruun, one for each person involved in the project. All done in Bruun’s typical minimalist style, the paintings feel more like gestures than a cohesive installation, but the integration of student work transforms the entire mansion into its own installation of sorts.

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