It’s impossible to be anywhere in downtown Annapolis and not feel the history of the town – from colonial times to the more recent history of the 20th century. And there’s nothing more exciting than bringing history to life through art. There are some masterful examples around town. One downtown gallery in particular invites you to step back in time and converse with people of the past – from the very famous to local residents who might otherwise be forgotten.
History reflected in the gallery and the art
The Annapolis Collection Gallery (55 West Street) itself is a slice of history. I remember the first time I walked into this stunningly sophisticated old world space. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny. It felt historic rather than old, clean yet rich. Its white embossed tin ceiling and original hardwood floor, accompanied by rich wood shelving and a rolling library ladder, hints at what the store used to be.
In 1865, the Slama family came to the U.S. and erected this building on West Street, opening a shoe store downstairs, and living upstairs above the shop. The Slama name is still laid in tile at the entry to the shop. Katherine Burke, owner of what is now the Annapolis Collection Gallery, had the opportunity to talk several times with the Slama’s grandson, Frank Slama, to learn the history of the building and the stories behind it. Its history is not forgotten. As I was walking into the gallery today, a man standing outside was explaining to his friends how he used to buy shoes here.
Katherine is a history buff, so this building is a great fit for her. In perfect harmony with the interior is the artwork she selects for display. When you first walk in, you can’t miss the perfectly rendered life-size study of a portrait of Winifred, Duchess of Portland (originally by John Singer Sargent) painted by Anne Munro Wood. Wood is primarily a portrait painter, and has painted 11 portraits of our founding fathers and past presidents that were displayed in the House of Delegates in 2012 in an exhibition commemorating the war of 1812.
Katherine also represents Greg Harlin, whose watercolors of historical events that helped to form and shape our country are masterful in detail and mood. You might recognize his work from the mural, “Ranger”, outside Gate 1 of the Naval Academy, depicting John Paul Jones’ sloop closing in on the British ship, HMS Drake.
The US Postal Service commissioned Harlin to create paintings depicting two major War of 1812 battles: Ft. McHenry and the Battle of New Orleans. Both stamps are now in post offices throughout the country.
Connecting stories of Annapolis history with the community today
For more recent history, the walls of the Annapolis Collection Gallery are covered with black and white photographs, most of which were taken by Charles Emory and Aubrey Bodine circa 1935 to 1965, including some Marion Warren silver gelatins. I knew I loved this gallery when I first saw tape with names on the glass of the photographs… names of the people pictured. Katherine has been adding names as visitors walk in and identify themselves, or say: “That’s my grandfather!” They reminisce and tell her stories about the events in the photos, such as Charles Carroll’s house (the barrister) being moved up the middle of Main Street in October of 1955.
My favorite story is about a photograph by Aubrey Bodine of young Annapolis High School graduates walking down Cornhill Street, learning to be tour guides in the summer of 1959. Fast forward to just a few years ago, when two children of local residents John and Louise Hammond were married in the same year. Visitors attending the first wedding stopped into the gallery. When they saw the Bodine photograph, they immediately identified one of the people as the lead in their senior play, and then put names to a few more. Attending the second wedding, these visitors brought additional guests and identified more of the subjects in the 1959 photograph. Katherine then placed the labeled photo in the window of the gallery, and two ladies came in and said: “Why aren’t we named in the picture?” So Katherine immediately tagged the glass with their names – they laughed and talk about the petticoats and other indicators in the photo of the 50’s era.
There’s so much more to tell and experience…I always meet someone new when I am at The Annapolis Collection Gallery. You’ll just have to drop by, say hello to Katherine and hear stories from her first-hand!