By Caryn Coyle
Katherine Meredith’s art show, “Partners,” opened on June 24, 2011, the same day that the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage. Meredith, a New York University graduate with a degree in studio art, had mounted a collection of portraits that featured gay and lesbian couples at die Botschaft 1628: Art & Culture, a private art gallery located at 1628 Bolton Street.
“It was so great to open my show the same day New York passed gay marriage,” said Meredith.
Her show, “Partners” is a “powerful visual voice for the equality movement.” Meredith added, “I want to present gay couples and their families as they really are.”
A member of the Portrait Society of America, she received her first commission when she was 16 and now makes a living as a professional portrait artist. Meredith, who has a husband and two children, believes every couple should have the same rights she has.
“Gay families suffer indignities great and small,” she explained.
As the secretary for her high school class, Meredith writes the news of her classmates, one of whom had twins recently. Meredith’s Catholic high school omitted her classmate’s announcement in their alumnae newsletter. She pointed to the portrait of the classmate, “Stacy and Margie,” on the gallery’s wall. In it is a picket fence, a green lawn and two women. One is seated on a chair in the yard, the other stands next to her, holding one of their three children.
Five years ago, Meredith painted the portrait of a male couple as “an exercise, for fun and exploration.” She explained, “I took a bunch of photographs [of the couple] and they came out well. When that portrait was finished, I thought I’d do a female couple.” She was not thinking of a show or even making a statement until her classmate’s news was rejected by her high school.
Meredith decided to increase the gay portraits, “I think of this as an awareness raising endeavor.” Her website, “Partners a Show of Portraits of Same Sex Couples,” was launched to raise awareness and to fundraise so that Meredith could work solely on “Partners” for a year.
On July 22, 2011, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley announced his intention to make same-sex marriage a priority in the next Maryland legislative session. A same-sex marriage bill passed Maryland’s Senate this year, but was withdrawn in the Maryland House of Delegates. Maryland hopes to follow New York’s lead.
“I have concluded that discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation in the context of civil marital rights is unjust. I have also concluded that treating the children of families headed by same-sex couples with lesser protections under the law than the children of families headed by heterosexual parents, is also unjust,” said O’Malley.
For centuries, Meredith explained, portraits have commemorated achievements, one’s status in society and families. But they have left out gay and lesbian couples who are “central to our culture, a vital part of our society.”
“I will continue to invite folks to contact me to have their portraits done,” Meredith said. She plans to take “Partners” to New York City and believes, “that when people see these portraits they’ll be inclined to examine their feelings about marriage equality and tolerance.”
Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.