The next time you are in Annapolis enjoying coffee at the City Dock or browsing the shops on Main Street and Maryland Avenue, be sure to walk up to the beautiful State Capital Building grounds and then hop on over to the St. John’s College campus – an idyllic setting to be sure.
Why would you go there? Because you don’t want to miss the only accredited college art museum in Maryland – the Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery at St. John’s College. It is also the only Fine Art Museum in Anne Arundel County. You get to experience an entire portfolio of the works of Josef Albers, (which I did in 2001 when I was living in Virginia), or original Hiroshige prints within walking distance of boutiques and bistros and all of the charms of this historic city.
The Gallery is split into two rooms and while relatively small in relation to some museums, the spaces are beautiful and inviting, and certainly large enough to accommodate comprehensive exhibits and retrospectives of numerous important international artists from then and now.
Thirty years and going strong.
With development and construction overseen by the founding chairman, renowned art collector and scholar Eugene Thaw, the Mitchell Gallery officially opened in the fall of 1989. The mission was clear from the start, and one to which the Advisory Boards and Mitchell Gallery Staff remain true every year: to always present the highest quality exhibition and curriculum-related programming as possible, and to complement the academic program. This creates a wonderful opportunity, as the academic program is source-based education – getting up close and personal with the classics.
It’s this dedication to quality and variety through time and across genres and mediums that led to the Mitchell Gallery becoming accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in April of 2012, making it the only college or university with an accredited museum in the state of Maryland.
The accreditation has given the Gallery even more opportunities to fulfill its mission because it provides assurance of professional museum standards, climate control, security measures, and professional handling. Their standing in the museum world brought them the Shakespeare First Folio – an outstanding achievement.
The development of excellent relationships with other prestigious institutes such as the National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Syracuse University Art Collection, Georgetown University, U.S.N.A. Museum, to name a few, has provided the Gallery with exchanges of excellent, meaningful exhibits that reach beyond regional relevance, exposing the community to global art across time and space.
The Mitchell Gallery was the 2019 Baltimore Sun Critic’s Pick of the Gallery with the Best Exhibit series.
Clearly the public agrees, as the Gallery hosts anywhere from 11,000 to 13,000 visitors within a nine-month exhibition span. They offer four museum-quality exhibitions every year that open in late August and go through the middle of April and “we do our best to put together a series that is a range that offers something for everyone,” says Gallery Director Hydee Schaller.
An offering like no other
Relying on membership, sponsorship, grants, and fund-raising to support its financial obligations, it takes dedicated, talented and passionate individuals to maintain the consistent quality and variety of programming that the Mitchell Gallery offers. They have two such amazing individuals: Hydee Schaller, the Gallery Director, and Lucinda Edinberg, the Gallery Art Educator.
When you encounter Hydee, the first thing you notice – and it stays with you – is her big, open smile. She is delightful, friendly and enthusiastic, and clearly committed to her profession, remaining current through participation and membership in a variety of well-selected art organizations and contributing her time and talent to regional organizations to help them grow the community’s embracing of art. She is proud of the Gallery’s exhibitions and the well-thought-out process that goes into their annual exhibition schedule. They plan two to three years out, “planting seeds” and following through on those that work well for a particular year.
“Exhibits are intended to complement the program by providing the same caliber of art as the sources as the literature they are studying, and (to that end) we work with the Faculty Advisory Committee and the Mitchell Gallery Advisory board of 30 volunteers. (Each year) we alternate between time periods, ethnicity and medium, offering both 2- and 3-dimensional art. We want to mix it up from year to year: we may have ancient Korean ceramics and Picasso ceramics, 20th-century graphics, Andy Warhol, and Ronald Markman.”
This year’s exhibitions focus on an American theme, with an exciting variety: American Impressionists, works from renowned The New Yorker cartoonist Mary Petty, an incredible selection of works from the Hechinger Collection (remember Hechinger Hardware?) that includes artwork made from and inspired by tools, and Native American artifacts from the Fenimore Art Museum’s Thaw Collection (as in the Gallery’s founder – Eugene Thaw) in Cooperstown.
They also feature current local and regional work: every other year they host a juried exhibition of works by Anne Arundel County artists, and each year St. John’s College students, faculty and staff are invited to participate in a community exhibition.
The impact of the Mitchell Gallery beyond the museum walls
With each exhibition, they work to create and provide events that offer a meaningful experience that often includes or impacts the regional and Maryland community. Their education opportunities are many and unique and I’m in awe of how they consistently come up with exciting new ways to engage the public.
They have a Book Club focused on a book for each exhibition. The Book Club date for the exhibition of “The Life and Art of Mary Petty” is Thursday, December 5 at 2:30 p.m. Free, but registration is required. The book title is “How About Never, Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons,” by Bob Mankoff.
Lucinda Edinberg, the Gallery Art Educator says, “In town, when we celebrated the Robert Indiana exhibition, we put together “Poetry and Picas: Circus of Words,” for which we received a grant from the Four Rivers Heritage Area. Sites for on-demand poems composed on typewriters included Hammond-Harwood House, Brice House, Back Creek Books, Old Fox Bookshop and Coffee shop, Banneker-Douglass Museum, Mitchell Gallery, Annapolis Collection Gallery, and City Dock. Personal poems were composed by professional and local poets—Pano Kanelos (SJC College Pres), former MD Poet Laureate Michael Glaser, and the current Poet Laureate, Grace Cavalieri, and a host of others. The STEM students from Anne Arundel County Public Schools served as “hawkers” and guides. They were terrific.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Lucinda for a number of years and her knowledge and genuine desire to enhance the community and public experience through art appreciation and endeavor is unparalleled. If you attend any of her art education events, you will learn more than you thought you would, and your understanding of the art and the artists’ process is layered and visceral. You will remember what you take away. An award winner in Anne Arundel County and recipient of a Governor’s Citation, she says she is most proud of the Blue Ribbon for her Apple Pie at the Arundel County Fair!
Lucinda’s “Try It” events have become very popular. Noticing that adults were actually quite timid to do artwork around the kids, Lucinda decided to offer Try-Its for ages 16 and up. “This is not a ‘make and take’ workshop; we supply everything. It’s the idea of getting an opportunity to do a project and experience a medium or technique related to the exhibition.” “It is thrilling to see them engage.” There is one 15-attendee workshop per exhibition and their attendance fees cover their costs. Up now: To complement the current American Impressionists exhibit, local renowned artist Abigail McBride will conduct three sessions. “We did a school exchange between Eastport Elementary and Crofton Woods Elementary-that was exciting and fun; we taught the children swing dancing and they got so much out of the experience,” says Lucinda.
Continuing and lasting legacy
When you arrive, you will encounter an understated gallery guard near the entrance. Each year there are eight to ten student gallery guards from St. John’s College that count visitors and get to experience the behind the scenes action of what it takes to operate an accredited museum, and learn the professional standards. That means that over the course of 30 years, 200+ students have gone out into the world with this incredible knowledge to help shape their future.
One of their gallery guards when on to law school and developed her own program for art law, and then went to Cambodia to institute her program in Asia. Another guard went on to an Internship at Air & Space Museum, earned a Masters in Physics, and became the museum’s curator.
“I loved my time working at the Mitchell Gallery. The Gallery serves such an important aspect of the college community because it allows students to engage in other mindful pursuits outside of the program. Working there taught me the importance of engaging with all areas of the local community. Even now as a lawyer based internationally, I still remember the Mitchell Gallery as the best job I ever had.One of the unspoken joys of being a guard at the gallery is being able to look at the works over a long period of time. … These encounters with the patrons and works in time reminds us that art is very much within our lives, and the Mitchell Gallery serves as a strong reminder to St. John’s that the world of art is vital and present.”
I love the picture of Lucinda and Hydee with Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, walking up the street promoting one of my favorite exhibits of the works Ruth Starr Rose in 2017. I think it captures their love for what they do, and how valuable they are to our community.