on art parties

CH: And we had parties. We have had wonderful, wonderful art parties in our building. I don’t know if you have heard about those from other people. We’ve done three monumental parties. And I call them “art parties” because they involve more than just a party.

Like, one party was the high school party, and it came about because I never got to be prom queen. Of course, in high school, I was far from ever being the prom queen. But I always sort of wanted to be the prom queen. So I decided, why couldn’t we just have a high school party? Because there are other people probably who wanted to be the star quarterback of the football team or whatever, or the head of the yearbook or something. “Why don’t we have a high school party and then we can all live out our aspirations?” So everybody—well, Kate [Thomas] and Bob [Levine], in particular—were our cohorts, and sometimes Nancy and Lou [Linden]. And they said, “Yeah, yeah! It sounds like a good idea.”

So then we got other people in. But then the party just kind of morphs into a really big, big party. Because we began to think about how real we wanted it to be. We got somebody to be a nun, for those of our friends who went to Catholic school. And we installed a nun in there. And then we rig up a PA system so that we can talk to people and make announcements. We began thinking about the things from high school that we remembered. The surly cafeteria lady that used to slop your peas! So we bought these big things of canned peas, and my sister-in-law was the surly cafeteria woman. And then we made people go through the cafeteria line, and we literally sloped stuff on their [plates]. And the part that was amazing was that our friends actually ate it!

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on being an artist/teacher

AF: When you were talking about this idea of being an artist first, and a teacher second, you know, in regards to someone else. Of all the people I’ve talked to in the building so far, not as many have been teachers. I’d be interested in your experience with having so many decades affiliated with MICA and the painting department, how you kind of balance [being an] artist/teacher.

PM: Well, when I taught, I always taught as an artist. But the skill of teaching as a teacher is that you are making sure your class is using their time and the experience they’re getting. Many artists will come in if they don’t have that feel for teaching. By going through Cooper Union for three years with the greatest teachers in some ways, and then Yale, another three years in residence, one year out, I’ve had a lot of teachers. And I think you learn teaching by having teachers. And then as you teach, you learn more about teaching. After each class, I almost want to write a book because all of a sudden, oh!—it all comes together and I understand. I have chapter one through ten, you know?

I think that’s what happens at the Institute.

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on finding a studio in baltimore

AF: I wanted to ask you—before we turned the recorder on, you told me a little bit about some of the other studio spaces that you had around the city.

PM: Yes.

AF: Would you be willing to talk a little bit about that?

PM: When I first arrived, the big choice of finding a studio—one of my friends from Yale, Michael Economos, had a studio in 206 West Franklin [Street], which is between Howard [Street] and Park [Avenue]. I saw that there was space available under him, so that’s where I first got a studio. I had that studio from 1966… I had that thirteen years as far as I remember.

Then I actually moved my studio from 206 to across the street, and I even forget the number, but it was a studio over a liquor store. The artist before me in that place was Israel Hirschberg. He was teaching at the Institute, but then he left. Eventually, he went to Jerusalem and started the Jerusalem Art School, which is still going. It’s very active.

So anyway, I was there seven more years. And then I had to leave and I had to pack all my stuff up. I was looking for a space, so I packed all my stuff up and Howie Weiss allowed me to store my belongings in the loft that he was renting.

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on architecture & industry

LL: This is the last generation of industrial buildings to be ornamented. When you leave, we’ll go outside and you can look up. There are these great Romanesque arches. There are carved faces with little carved lions and clowns and shit. And the whole two-block long factory complex was all built at the same time. And it’s all ornamented in the same fashion. And that went away immediately after that.

This portion over here—this addition to the Copy Cat Building—was built in 1906. And if you look at it, that ornamentation is gone completely. It’s totally utilitarian. This is kind of the end of the 19th century, when your industrialists demonstrated their power and their sophistication by decorating. Even the factories are decorated.

And the brick work, it’s exquisite brick work, it’s just really quite remarkable. It really is one of the last pure brick piles. You know, basically this is a hollow shell. The floors are supported with cast-iron posts that hold those steel I-beams. But structurally, it’s all masonry. There’s no structural steel in these walls at all. And there is no pre-cast concrete. Interestingly, the Copy Cat Building has a lot of cast concrete floors. This building does not. And I’m not at all sure why.

But this really is, I think of the whole complex, far and away the most attractive building. And, indeed, it is really the most manageable in terms of its size. It’s only about 40,000 square feet, the whole building. And that makes it possible for a small number of impecunious artists to own it and keep it going.

on the gallery & activism

KT: So, for instance, the gallery—as much as we would hold that open for gallery space, for art shows and things of that nature—it also was a huge place for gathering people. The stuff that has gone on in that gallery is just amazing over the years. I mean, all kinds of political organizations have met there, had meetings there, gatherings. I remember that we had Bernardine Dohrn from the sixties come one time and speak to us.

There were just all kinds of things going on around here that revolved around it. So there always was a combination of activism [and art] here. So it’s the bent of the people in the neighborhood and us, in particular, but also the direction of the gallery for a long time. I think it’s kind of a nice marriage, probably not an unusual one.

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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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