psy·chot·ic leop·ard sīˈkädik/ˈlepərd/ noun · anything that is funky, interesting, beautiful, niche, useful, and grabs one's attention

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Baltimore Artscape 2016:  Our Escape

Posted by Lisa Johnson on


I stumbled upon Artscape three years ago, when I had to deliver my daughter to Baltimore to an all-weekend birthday party, and found I had an entire twelve hours of day to spend by myself on the Saturday between the Paramour / Fall Out Boy concert on Friday night, and the Saturday arcade and laser tag festivities.

The birthday girl’s mother, who knew I was artsy, recommended going to what was fortuitously happening that very weekend – the largest free art festival in the country, smack in the middle of Baltimore.  Though “The Wire” was my all-time favorite show, and part of me wanted to do a self-driving tour, I figured it was probably safer, as a single female, to hit Artscape.

I arrived at the Biltmore Suites, also recommended by the mom who had worked there in her student days, which she described as “slightly shabby, but charming,” and immediately fell in love with the place, beginning from its antique, elaborately decorated brass doorknocker, the fact that you had to ring a doorbell to be let in, and the unusual portrait murals decorating the entryway.  My room was incredibly cozy, I slept really well, and, the next morning, stuffed my fringed backpack full of water bottles and set out into the day on foot, as everything was in easy walking distance.

First stop was another gem:  Milk and Honey café, whose signature “milk and honey steamer” of whipped warm milk with honey on the bottom and decorating the froth, was completely delicious and unusual.  The food was lots of eggs and fresh bread from local farms – also very yummy, and I loved the homemade terrariums for sale in the huge, bright windows, as well as the hippie ambiance of the place.

From just a few blocks away, I could see what looked like a circus act at the beginning of the fair, two women on aerial silks, spinning into stunts while cracking jokes.  The rest of the day was a blur of breakdancing, local crabcakes and pina coladas, a larger than life sculpture of a tortoise made entirely of wire and discarded plastic shopping bags, and so much more.  It was one of the first times since having teenagers that I was able to completely immerse myself in something separate from parenthood, and loved feeling like a twenty-something myself again, with the only goal being to explore.  And document!

Since then, Artscape has become an annual pilgrimage, and this past month, my boyfriend was able to get away and discover right there with me. This time, we planned well, and got to the Charming City before midnight, checked into room 122, and wandered into the coolest place for dinner, just blocks away –Brew House No. 16, whose heirloom caprese salad, with its purple and orange mini tomatoes, flash fried calamari, and dessert of sour cherry nougat were out of this world!

The next morning, after again having slept really well (I LOVE when you actually get good sleep in a hotel!), we ventured into Artscape, and were so glad to have charged our phones, as we spent the next several hours taking pictures – beginning with the tremendous homemade art projects of jellyfish which was the first booth we saw – made entirely from recycled milk cartons, and those ever present plastic shopping bags as the tentacles.

My favorite artists from past years were there, except the book art guy, who I was really looking forward to seeing.  Martha Rotten, a jewelry design who studied under the best, had her usual incredible booth of cast pewter necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and butter knifes, replete with tentacles and bird skulls – love it.

Another favorite was Jeffrey Kennedy Art, whose whimsical moving sculptures and enormous dog themed marble rolls caught my eye.  They made everyone smile, with their clever names as well as bright colors – including “To Kill A Mockingbird” with an adorable looking birdbath and rainbow colored birds, but upon closer inspection, you notice the shark fin peeking out of the water.  Other notables were the merry-go-round style pieces, such as “Sweetie Pie” with a revolving wheel of cakes, doughnuts, and other sweets cycling through a lady’s mouth, each piece hitting her tongue as it went by.

The cleverness of people at Artscape really tickles my fancy.  We saw a guy who had taken vintage license plates and pages from Dr. Seuss books, blended them with wire mesh and wood, to create handy key holders and shelves.  There was a local woodworker who had put together entire coffee tables using vintage rulers, and I loved the dinosaur butt magnets made from kids’ rubber toys cut in half and painted gold.

Other adorables were the Zooguu faux taxidermy tent, whose artists had mounted the heads of stuff animals on wood plaques, including unicorns and hammerhead sharks.  And the recycled pottery necklaces, made from vintage pieces of china, was also pretty tempting, but I had to restrain myself and think, perhaps I can do these myself.

What was hard to not buy were the macabre dioramas from the guy who has been there year after year – his signature style includes tiny wooden boxes with creepy mini photos and figures, all surrounded by a border of antique nails hammered along the sides.  This year’s favorite was one containing a baby’s head with a green eye in the forehead, like an infant Cyclops, surrounded by moss, in the standard nail border – so cool!

Chris Crumbie is also a big draw – his work reminds me a little of of Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” – kind of sweet macabre folk art with incredibly weird, romantic quotes carved into the back of his wall boxes, which are his signature C.R.E.E.P.S. (C.uriously R.andom E.motionally E.lusive P.eculiar S.pecimens).  Love those!

This year’s Artscape theme was one of space, which was notable only in that in the sweltering heat, there were unique cooling stations set up in the shape of planets.  Our favorite was the large orange dome known as Jupiter.  We wandered in to be spritzed from all angles by welcome water, and to make it even more delicious, a large fan was blowing in so we could huddle near it and feel awash in coolness.  Speaking of overheating, Baltimore did an excellent job with not only the planet cooling centers, but they even had taken a city bus, parked it in the center of everything, and turned on the A/C full blast, with a large sign publicizing how party goers could come in, sit down, and cool off.  Ahhhhhhhhh……

After restocking our water bottles at the historical Baltimore train station (free water fountains - yippee), we decided to head back home, full of project ideas and inspiration.  Until next summer!

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