Courtesy of Montgomery Parks

Explore the historic grounds at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park.

When Arts & Nature Converge

Flowers wilt, tchotchkes break and breakfast in bed can be a messy business. This year, why not give the gift of yourself on Mother’s Day? Take time out and share the beauty of nature, the…

Flowers wilt, tchotchkes break and breakfast in bed can be a messy business. This year, why not give the gift of yourself on Mother’s Day? Take time out and share the beauty of nature, the magic of history, the delicate work of artists’ hands—or their feet as they dance across the stage.

In Montgomery County, there’s plenty of fun to be found. A walk in the park could mean historic Glen Echo with its art and artistry, or the bountiful blossoms at Brookside Gardens. There are museums and manor homes, theaters and historic sites—plenty of places to spend quality time with mom.

The first marker on the Underground Railroad Experience Trail that begins at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park.
The first marker on the Underground Railroad Experience Trail that begins at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park. Courtesy of Montgomery Parks

Like Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring.

“We actually moved our Sunday hike to Mother’s Day,” said Mark Thorne, the program manager at the historic property, “because we’ve had so many mothers come out in the last two years just to walk our trail. This was what they asked of their families: just to spend time with them, out in nature.”

A native Washingtonian, Thorne has worked in museums for more than 25 years. He said that with a visit to Woodlawn Manor, “you can give your mom the gift of nature and history at the same time.”

It’s a physically and emotionally challenging gift. The two-and-a-half-hour hike along Woodlawn’s Underground Railroad Experience Trail features a guide “explaining how the woods would have been used for escape and evasion by those seeking freedom and sharing anecdotes and stories of people who traveled north along the trail.”

Woodlawn is located in a Quaker community, and Thorne said that while Quakers—members of the Religious Society of Friends—freed their slaves a hundred years before the Emancipation Proclamation and worked to help free slaves, “Woodlawn was owned by a Quaker who actually kept slaves, Dr. William Palmer.” That didn’t turn out particularly well for Palmer, who was “run out” or excommunicated from the Friends Church. Thorne said the best way to get the whole story is by touring the manor house as well as the grounds—preferably with mom.

The fairytale classic “Snow White” comes to life at Maryland Youth Ballet.
The fairytale classic “Snow White” comes to life at Maryland Youth Ballet. Photo Credit: Alyce Jenkins

Some moms prefer to take in their culture in a more passive way, taking a seat at the ballet. Maryland Youth Ballet (MYB), founded by ballerina Tensia Fonseca as a way to balance her artistic career with motherhood, has a special three-part dance concert scheduled for the weekend of Mother’s Day that combines classic and contemporary pieces with the tremendously crowd-pleasing “Snow White.”

“It follows the Grimm’s fairy tale pretty closely,” said choreographer Deidre Byrne. MYB first performed “Snow White” at Wolf Trap, where “because it was ‘Snow White’ all these little children came very excited because they had seen the movie, or they knew the story, and they came dressed up.”

Watching the little ones enjoy the action is just one part of the fun. Byrne said the school’s top dancers are in the lead roles along with dwarves in their newly-built house plus little rabbits, butterflies and lady bugs. “It is really cute.”

A senior faculty member, Byrne “grew up here in this school” with Michelle Lees, MYB’s principal and artistic director, as her teacher.

“I think the program has a little bit of something for everyone,” said Lees, noting that in addition to “Snow White,” there’s a contemporary dance as well as a more traditional, classical ballet, “La Bayadère,” “which has all those girls in white tutus coming down a ramp. It is famous for this, it’s the most gorgeous thing and all those little girls in the audience are going to be going, ‘Ooh!’ It’s very impressive.”

Alvin Mayes’ “Eireann Kente” brings together African and Celtic musical traditions.
Alvin Mayes’ “Eireann Kente” brings together African and Celtic musical traditions. Photo Credit: Stephen Baranovics

Also impressive is work of dancer and dance professor Alvin Mayes. Mayes, who teaches at MYB, will present an 18-minute piece at the concert that he called “a really fun, energetic, celebratory piece.” Inspired by the rhythms of African and Celtic culture, “Eireann Kente” finds common ground in two distinct musical traditions.

“What I think is really important about both of those cultures is the use of the drum as both a rhythmic and melodic element,” he said. “We mostly think of drumming as being percussive and rhythmic; in the dance, I’m using it as a sense of place and time and also of human interaction.”

The human interaction in the audience matters, too—especially on Mother’s Day. Mayes said “Eireann Kente” has universal appeal, with its themes that celebrate women growing up, coming of age and taking their place in society.

“It does tie into Mother’s Day,” said Mayes. “The main character of the piece is the matriarch in the society, and then there’s the mother and the daughter. You see this lineage of women, and I think it’s very important when we see strong women figures in dances.

“It’s not a political statement, just the reality of those cultures. Women are important.”

Artisan jewelry like this ring by Courtney Gillen can be found at the juried A-RTS at Rockville Town Square festival.
Artisan jewelry like this ring by Courtney Gillen can be found at the juried A-RTS at Rockville Town Square festival. Courtesy of A-RTS at Rockville Town Square

Of course, if you’re looking for an actual gift to give mom, it’s a good idea to find something as unique and special as she is. Robin Markowitz wants to help, and she wants you to shop early—this weekend! —at the Rockville Town Square Arts Festival.

“It’s just a fantastic day in Rockville Town Square,” said Markowitz, the festival’s director. Up and running the weekend before Mother’s Day, the Rockville Town Square Arts Festival offers live music as well as activities just for kids, courtesy of VisArts.

“We’re providing an opportunity to meet the artists; to support local, creative, one-of-a-kind pieces of work in an era where everything is mass-produced,” she explained, adding that even Mother’s Day shoppers on a budget can find something beautiful. “A lot of our artisans are doing fantastic pieces of work that are under $500; many of them are well under $100. Whether it’s wearable or functional or decorative, you’re able to purchase something that’s completely unique.”

“This is not a flea market,” she added. “This is a fine art show.” Because it’s juried, everything from wooden spoons to silk scarves is handmade and top-quality. Markowitz firmly believes that the 150 artisans offer a spectrum of work that runs from the most conservative pieces to the most avant-garde–something for everyone.

“We have wonderful art, great live local musical entertainment, people making artisanal foods to bring home—there’s a woman who does biscotti and olive oils; a couple of chocolatiers—and the weather is going to be fantastic,” said Markowitz. “It’s really a fun day.”

Ladies at last year’s Bethesda Fine Arts Festival in the Levy tent.
Ladies at last year’s Bethesda Fine Arts Festival in the Levy tent. Courtesy of Bethesda Urban Partnership

For a similarly fun day on Mother’s Day, the festival is in Bethesda—and you can skip the breakfast in bed.

“It’s very do-able in a day,” said Stephanie Coppula, noting that the 2018 Bethesda Fine Arts Festival  will be held on Saturday, May 12, as well as on Mother’s Day, Saturday, May 13. “It starts at 10 a.m., so you could come early, take a look at the artwork, shop and go have breakfast after that—or have brunch first and enjoy the afternoon at the festival.”

With its location in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle, the festival offers seven bands for attendees to enjoy as they peruse the art on offer from 130 artists in a juried show that offers prizes to the artists and one-of-a-kind prints, paintings, jewelry, furniture, clothing and more to shoppers.

“We are very lucky because Bethesda is a great destination for these artists,” she said. “Montgomery County really appreciates art!”

At Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, 16501 Norwood Road, Sandy Spring, the grounds and trail are open free of charge year-round, dawn to dusk. Admission is charged for Guided Underground Railroad Experience Trail hikes, the Woodlawn Museum and the Woodlawn Manor House. Call 301-929-5989 or visit www.montgomeryparks.org.

Maryland Youth Ballet presents “Snow White” at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, May 12, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 13, at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. Tickets range from $19 to $26. Call 301-608-2232 or visit www.marylandyouthballet.org.

The Rockville Town Square Arts Festival is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 5, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday May 6. Call 301-637-5684 or visit www.a-rts.org.

The Bethesda Fine Arts Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 12, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 13. Call 301-215-6660 or visit www.bethesda.org.