on lessons from south baltimore

AF: How much do you think that you bought lessons from South Baltimore here, as far as neighborhood and community?

CH: Yeah. For myself, not very much, really.  Because I moved to Baltimore from Annapolis. So I was very involved in the Annapolis community and politics and activism. I was part of a tenants’ rights group in Annapolis. But when I moved to Baltimore, to move in with Dennis, I probably was only in that rowhouse in South Baltimore for just a couple of years before we moved here.

But for Dennis, he bought a lot of what he learned. And in fact, when we moved in this neighborhood, Dale Hargrave, who I said, is the current president of New Greenmount West [Community Association], was already living here. And Dennis knew Dale, because Dale did recycling in South Baltimore and was part of the Recycling Coalition that Dennis and others were part of. So he had contacts everywhere. And he brought in our experience—which was his experience, much more than mine—of watching something that was vibrant and mixed and a wonderful soup of people become bland and vanilla. And healthy, I guess, but just… I don’t know.

Life left the streets for us. That’s how he saw it. I’m sure that people living there now don’t feel that way. It’s not to disparage them. But there was something that was there that he truly loved that left. And so he found it here. And he didn’t want to see it leave again. So he tried to figure out what happened in South Baltimore.

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on teaching art locally

CH: Dennis and I are political activists, too. We have both have been activists all our lives. So we wanted to get very involved in our neighborhood. And the first thing we did was we went over… There was school across the way from us—now a Montessori public school—but it had been called Mildred Monroe [School #32, Mildred D. Monroe Elementary School]. It was a public school. It was named after a janitor. One of the few, if not only, schools in Maryland, and maybe the country, I don’t know, named after a janitor.

We found out that they didn’t have an art teacher at the school. And we were horrified. We couldn’t imagine, either one of us, having gotten through school without art. So we decided to volunteer our time and to become the art teacher for Mildred Monroe on Fridays. We could only… You know, we had to do some real work, to make ends meet. So we picked Friday, and we became the art teachers for the kids at Mildred Monroe. And that was a wonderful entry into the community, because we’d meet all the kids, and then you’d meet their families and stuff.

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on the decision to buy

LL: I had been in here for about five minutes before I said, “You know, Nancy Sue, you could hang a fucking airplane in here.” And I had the airplane!

AF: [laughs]

LL: I was flying gliders at the time, and my flight instructor had pieces from two TGY4 training gliders from WWII. And I measured it off and I said, “TG4Y would just fit in here.” And, you know, I was hooked.

I’d always wanted a space like this, ever since I was in college. In about 1966 or 1967, in Minneapolis, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, right across from the University of Minnesota, where Bob Dylan used to hang out and play in the early 60s, there was this old firehouse that housed a bookstore, McCosh’s Books.  Old Mr. [Melvin] McCosh was like 85. He was retiring, closing up the bookstore and selling the firehouse. And I desperately wanted to buy that firehouse, because my father had grown up in that neighborhood. And I remember him telling me stories about what he was a tiny little kid, watching the horses tow the fire engines out of that firehouse. You know, vroom, vroom, vroom, the smoke coming out of the things. There was this volume, just something cathedral-like about it. I just adored it. But, you know, I was a scholarship kid. I mean, my day was complete if I could afford 75 cents to buy a fish sandwich for lunch. There was no way in the world that I was going to be buying real estate. So, it just went away.

So this really fed into that whole thing about huge volumes of space. And we said, “Well shit, we could knock this sucker out in about six months and move in.” And I was real tired of living in a rowhouse. We’d been living in a South Baltimore rowhouse for about 15 years, and I was sick of it. So we made an offer.

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on paper and pyramid

AF: What about your own art-making practice?

CM: It’s evolved a lot over the years. Since I graduated with an undergraduate degree in painting and then a masters in crafts, I found an ideal medium probably around 1982 or 1983, when I heard about a papermaking facility. It was in this building. I was very interested, and I did sign up for a few classes; that was 1982 or 1983. That was called Pyramid Prints and Paperworks, and it was upstairs—that whole space where the gallery is now was that facility.

So I did paper almost exclusively for about twelve years—handmade paper, in which you incorporate art into the ancient art of papermaking. As you make the paper, you are actually working on the art.

Paul? You’re making noise, Paul!

PM: [Sawing wood for a frame in the background]

CM: Paul!

PM: Got it. This is a studio!

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