Last summer, I got to know, work with, and write about the prolific local artist Comacell "Cell Spitfire" Brown. The last time I ran into Comacell was at the dedication of the Walking Man's Mural on the side of Pinkey's Liquors on West Street, paying tribute to Carlester "Buckwheat" Smith. Mr. Smith passed in March of this year, and the mural served as a visual catharsis for the community to honor Carlester's memory and thank him for his impact on the community. Flowers and a snack hand-out of his favorite treats were placed at the mural site to pay tribute.
The Walking Man Mural on West Street. Image courtesy of the author.
Comacell has stayed plenty busy since the completion of the Walking Man Mural. Comacell was one of eight featured artists in an exhibition at Maryland Hall titled Art of Activism in partnership with the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Banneker-Douglass Museum. The exhibit showcased contemporary black artists utilizing their talent to engage in activism through various media in honor of Black History Month. While the exhibition itself is no longer showing, you can view this Annapolis Discovered gallery tour with Emily Kohlenstein as she talks about how the exhibit came to be and how it is serving to cross-pollinate audiences of Maryland Hall and these up-and-coming voices of the community. The Maryland Hall facade was adorned with bold, graphic banners produced by Comacell and the other artists that engaged passersby with designs reflecting Black Lives Matter and current social topics.
As a Graphic Artist and muralist, The Annapolis Juneteenth Festival logo was also created by Comacell' Cell Spitfire' Brown. Image courtesy of Comacell "Cell Spitfire' Brown.
"I've always been a believer and pusher of black history, so that was right along the lines for me. It was a great experience; it was my first time exhibiting my work [at Maryland Hall] and I learned a lot from Emily on how to continue exhibiting my work there. I also learned from the other artists that participated, so it was a really humbling experience."
Currently Comacell can be found at the MC3 outdoor art space leading a team of muralists to help him produce one of his original designs celebrating the legacy of Carr's and Sparrows Beaches: the segregated black beaches that were the scene of some of the most epic performances of the 20th century. The star emcee of the groundbreaking black radio station WANN known as "Hoppy" Adams brought the greatest black acts in American history to Annapolis—Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes—drawing crowds of thousands from across the region week after week for "Bandstand on the Beach". Once an obscure but well-known destination for those who knew where to look, this new mural is impossible to miss with its prominent location, bright colors and massive scale.
The Maryland Hall facade was adorned with graphic banners produced by Comacell and other artists that engaged passersby with designs reflecting Black Lives Matter and current social topics. Image courtesy of Maryland Hall.
"With my graphic design skills, I feel I work best incorporating bright colors and moving pieces, but making sure everything is spread out so it doesn't look crowded."
A self-proclaimed history buff, Comacell always starts a piece by doing his research. MC3 and the Maryland State Archives helped point him in the right direction when determining who and what would be highlighted in the mural.
"Hoppy" Adams is included next to legendary James Brown, who brought out 70,000 people for his show with only 10,000 allowed in. The beach and attractions served as a great source for economic opportunity for the black community, depicted by a group of men sitting in suits with top hats and cigars as they wait for their wives and children to leave the beach. They are well-dressed and exude confidence in their roles as protectors of their family.
Comacell "Cell Spitfire" Brown stands in front of his most recent project the mural of Carr's Beach at MC3. Image courtesy of the author.
Other figures include the sisters that owned Carr's Beach, Mary Florence Carr Sparrow and Elizabeth Carr Smith who inherited the land from their father Frederick Carr. George Phelps Jr., also pictured, was the black officer that headed the police patrol of the beach, ensuring a safe, family-friendly environment. Annapolis's greatest break out musical act of the time were the Van Dyke's, their vinyl record featured prominently in the composition.
The last snapshot is probably the most beloved and iconic image of Carr's Beach— four stylish women casually leaning against a classic car with a cartoon face of "Hoppy" Adams on the side. The captured moment says it all about the vibe of one of the greatest eras of Annapolis black history and culture.
Brown stands before the completed Carr's Beach mural at the Maryland Cultural & Conference Center. Image courtesy of photographer, Ariana Perez.
All of the photo renderings and an impressionist portrayal of the beach goers themselves are melded together with Comacell's graphic sensibility. The incorporated lettering was inspired by Comacell's research.
"When I was planning this I was looking on etsy, Pinterest and even eBay. What I stumbled across were posters from that time created to advertise the artists, and I took key components from the flyers and posters to include in the design. They changed up their fonts but this [the Carr's Beach logo] was the design they used the most and I thought it worked best with the scale of the building."
As an entrepreneur, muralist, designer, and community activist with a passion for bringing black history to the forefront of the Annapolis art scene, Comacell is definitely an artist to keep your eye on. When I asked who inspires him, Comacell sang the praises of his fellow muralists— Deonte Ward, Jameson Scott, Luther Wright, Harold Maloy. With a variety of talents and a breadth of experience, the entire team all share the same dedication to the quality of the work.
Comacell's first solo exhibit will debut in June as part of MC3's One Annapolis Community Art project. MC3 will utilize the space with the new mural to bring the energy and celebration of Carr's Beach back to Annapolis. Bring beach chairs, blankets, towels, and umbrellas, and get ready for some safe, family-friendly fun for their upcoming concert series!
After a long hard year, we could all use a day at the beach.