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Portrait Project Features Figures From Area’s Past

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(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — In his 15 years in Frederick, the artist Yemi has painted many local scenes.

His latest project has him depicting 40 of the most important people of Frederick’s past.

The “Pillars of Frederick” is a large public art project that will put the faces of those 40 people on the side of the McCutcheon’s Apple Co. building at 13 S. Wisner St.

The building faces Carroll Creek, and is visible from the new Frederick Visitor Center and the Frederick train station. The row of portraits will cross the top of the building.

“These are giants in the history of Frederick,” said Yemi, who goes only by the singular name. Pillars of Frederick is expected to be unveiled around Labor Day.

He began working on the project four years ago. He knew the McCutcheon building and had done work for the McCutcheon family.

He wanted to do a public art project that celebrated these giants. “I asked people who knew Frederick’s history, and all were excited,” he said. He estimated the project would cost $60,000 to $80,000.

Timing is everything. The project was put on hold during the economic downturn of 2008-09. Last year, however, Yemi decided to revive it. He approached Marlene Young, of Great Southern Enterprises Inc., who encouraged him. “I always knew it was a great idea,” he said. Young suggested forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with a committee to oversee the project.

Committee members, all of whom have lived or worked in the area for many years, decided to call the project the Mural Project. The members are also working with Yemi to publish a book to accompany the display. The book will have biographical information about each of the 40 people featured.

All of those depicted in the mural are deceased. Mural subjects include Fredericktonians ranging from the earliest European settler, Susanna Beatty-Cramer, to Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, who died last year.

Others depicted include Francis Scott Key, John Hanson, Thomas Johnson, Adm. Winfield Scott Schley and Margaret Hood. Eleanor Johnson, who started the Weekly Reader, is included, as is Joseph Baker, and artist Helen Smith. William Tyler Page, who wrote America’s Creed, is another. Dr. Ulysses Bourne treated African-American patients. Claude Delauter, the late U.S. Rep. Goodloe E. Byron, William O. Lee, editor Folger McKinsey, George Dredden and William T. Delaplaine, who founded The News, are others. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Father John DuBois, two of the county’s early Catholic settlers, are included.

Yemi is designing the portraits on computer using Adobe Illustrator. The program is fine for designs with sharp lines, but portraits need lots of shading. “So I have to crack it to make it work,” he said. To give each face the dimples, the lifelike skin tone and the other features that make a face three-dimensional and realistic, Yemi broke each portrait down into dozens of pieces, and individually tinted them.

“We’re putting each person’s signature at the bottom,” Yemi said. Signatures, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries, indicated much about a person’s spirit. Bold signatures with a flourish indicate a confident, powerful person, he said.

Each portrait will be reproduced on a 25-pound piece of aluminum. The paint used will be outdoor, fade-resistant paint that is expected to last seven years. The portraits will hang for five years, and then be removed to make way for 40 more portraits, Yemi said.

He is working with the Historical Society of Frederick County to find likenesses of each subject. No known images of Susanna Beatty-Creamer exist, so Yemi is researching her lineage and incorporating fashion of the early 18th century to come up with a facsimile.

Francis Scott Key is also a challenge. “We don’t have a lot of pictures of him,” he said. Those that exist show him with few facial characteristics, making him seem almost unreal. Yemi added jowls and dimples to give his face a little character. He added some cheek blush to those who are fair-skinned, to help give the skin some tone.

Barbara Fritchie, who was an old woman when she was made famous in John Greenleaf Whittier’s Civil War poem, is part of the series. Claire McCardell, who made sportswear fashionable for American women in the post-World War II era, is also part of the series.

Another 20th-century figure is John Atanasoff, who is recognized as the inventor of the computer. Atanasoff lived in Frederick in his later years.

Yemi said he is learning about Frederick’s history from committee members. “I’ve never done anything this big before,” he said. “To me, it was like going to school. I got to listen, learn and act. It’s wonderful for our county.”

The book that is planned to accompany the mural project will be more than a history book. “It will give each individual’s recipe for success,” Yemi said. “The key of each of these pillars of history is to inspire and entertain.” The hardcover book will be 170 pages and full color. The portraits will be reproduced with a little more background. John Hanson’s portrait, for example, will have the Articles of Confederation in the background. The book will be available locally around the time when the art project is unveiled.

Yemi arrived in Frederick 15 years ago after having spent 18 years as a commercial artist in New York. “I never felt like I belonged there,” he said. When he and his former wife pulled up to their rented townhouse in Lake Linganore with a U-Haul, neighbors offered to help them unpack. “I felt like I belonged here from the first day,” he said.

He now lives on Tower Road near Thurmont with his fiancee, Darlene Crutchley, and his son. He designs and paints murals for corporations and also designs Christmas ornaments for local municipalities. He enjoys doing portraits, because he finds doing faces an artistic challenge. The “Pillars of Frederick” project is fun, he said.

“It’s a labor of love,” Yemi said. “I want people to see the people who grew out of our own soil.”

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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