Some artists search high and low for inspiration. Linda Phillips just looks out the window.
“I just absolutely love the serenity,” said Phillips, whose Something Earthy pottery studio can be found in the heart of Montgomery County’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, surrounded by farms, stables and gently rolling pastures. “The farmland, the animals, the flowers the trees—everything around me inspires my work.”
Her work is pottery.
“I took a class and fell in love with it,” she said. “Turned my passion and hobby into a career.” That was 18 years ago, after taking a class at the Frederick Pottery School taught by noted local potter Bill VanGilder. Fifteen years ago, Phillips, who was raised on a farm in the Cloverly area of Silver Spring, decided to create a working studio, gallery and shop on her Laytonsville property.
“I’m open all year round,” said Phillips, who makes stoneware—mugs, plates, bowls, flowerpots—that’s as beautiful as it is functional. “I do very little ‘decorative.’ Everything I do is made from clay, and I love to cook, I have a food background, so a lot of my pieces come with recipes that I’ve designed for them.”
Brie bakers, batter bowls, berry bowls, mugs: Phillips makes items that are practical, but they’re also art. As such, they’ll be part of the “Farm to Gallery: Countryside Artisans” exhibit that opens this weekend at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown.
BlackRock is where Phillips and other members of the collective known as the Countryside Artisans of Maryland will put their nature-inspired artwork on display as part of a celebration of the designated rural landscape that surrounds their homes and studios. With a broad selection of media—everything from oil and watercolor paintings to hand-crafted ceramics, porcelain and glass to sculptures and textiles and even hand-crafted beers and wine—this exhibit has one underlying theme: the inspiration that comes from Agricultural Reserve.
“We’re all in the Ag Reserve, or somewhere in the Montgomery County countryside,” confirmed the show’s curator, sculptor David Therriault. He noted that the show was juried by members of the 25-year-old group with two criteria: “the studio being in a country setting, farm like; and the art being what we call exceptional.”
Therriault is on the other side of the Ag Reserve, in the Sugarloaf Mountain area of Beallsville, where he and his wife Sandy Wright have created a sculpture garden/gallery, Alden Farms, to house David Therriault Stone Design.
“I began with horticulture and landscaping, then moved to the abstract sculptures that I put into the landscape,” said Therriault, who grew up in Potomac. He makes sculptures for private collections, public spaces and gardens, using metal, stone and imagination. “I have three very large pieces I’m bringing to BlackRock to give a sense of the farm-to-gallery feel,” he said, noting that the exhibit at BlackRock is a good jumping-off point for anyone who wants to get a sense of what’s going on in the Ag Reserve—the “green lung” of the county zoned to block urban sprawl by preserving and promoting farming and rural pursuits.
“We’re transforming the Kay Gallery, with 18 artists showing their work and displaying what their studios look like,” he said, noting that the reserve cuts a swath from Poolesville to Sandy Spring, and that visitors to the exhibit at BlackRock can get information on how to set up tours of their favorite Countryside Artisans studios in mid-October, one of three annual art tour weekends in April, October and December.
“Get a map, pick the studios you want to visit, which also include a winery and a brewer, and make plenty of stops along the way,” he advised, pointing out that a stop at Laytonsville’s Waredaca Brewing Company or Rocklands Farm and Winery could be a highlight of a Countryside Artisans itinerary.
“You couldn’t do it all in one tour,” he added, suggesting no more than five or six in a day. “It’s quite the adventure!”
An adventure that veers toward the exotic at Art of Fire Contemporary Glass Studios, where visitors go to get fired up—literally. “Our studio is open year-round and people are always welcome to come observe and interact with us,” said Theda Hansen, who founded Art of Fire along with husband Foster Holcombe back in 1984. “It’s a lot easier if they take the time to schedule, so we don’t run into too many people at one time.”
At Art of Fire, the resident glassblowers—Hansen and Holcombe plus Todd Hansen, Bruce Ferguson, Josh Ries and Keith Daly—make art and teach classes in a converted Laytonsville dairy barn. “We selected half of a dozen of our nicer pieces to send over,” said Holcombe, noting that each Art of Fire artist will be represented at BlackRock so that visitors can get an idea of the breadth of diversity in this artistic collective.
But diversity is also on display across the Ag Reserve at historic Lindenwood Farm in Poolesville, where painter Claire Howard’s studio can be found in a renovated chicken coop behind the circa 1850 Victorian farmhouse. In addition to large paintings of the rural countryside, neat flower gardens and the beaches of the Eastern Shore, Howard paints whimsical works in acrylic, inspired by the sheep she raises as adored pets on the farm. “They’re happy little paintings of sheep that play golf, or ski, or go to the beach,” she laughed. “It’s just my imagination, but yes, anyone can come visit my sheep in their pasture.”
Howard works from photographs, capturing the scene outside her studio window and the ever-changing tableaux along nearby fields and country roads.
“There are many perspectives to the Ag Reserve, so I photograph what moves me as I’m driving along the backroads every season,” she explained. “I never know what I’m going to find—so I make sure I pull over and take that picture, because it will never be that way again, ever.” When she has chosen a picture, Howard paints mostly in oil, with the same palette knife she has used since she was 16 years old.
“That’s the one I do everything with,” she said. “I love working with that tool.” Howard noted that while Lindenwood Farm won’t be on the October Countryside Artisans tour, she will be welcoming guests in December—and she’ll be at the BlackRock show with three very large-scale paintings.
“The Agricultural Reserve is very close to my heart,” she said. “It’s the beauty, the elevation—the light is extraordinary, the landscape ever-changing. The pastures, the fields, the farms, the horses—you put all that together and you’re just filled with such peace.”
The Countryside Artisans Farm to Gallery exhibit is in the Kay Gallery at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown, from Sept. 16 to Oct. 28, with a Meet the Artists reception on Sunday, Sept. 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Visit www.blackrockcenter.org or call 301-528-2260. For more information on the Countryside Artisans, visit www.countrysideartisans.com. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.