A colony for local artists, a gallery for area art lovers and a classroom for artsy types of all abilities, the Montpelier Arts Center is well worth the drive beyond the Beltway to see what's new on contemporary canvases. A facility of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, it is just off busy Route 197 in Laurel, on the grounds of the Montpelier Mansion. You'll find the center in a pastoral setting, marked off by a post-and-rail fence.
A reconstructed barn with cupolas and a silo from the turn of the century, houses three galleries and lots of studio space. Visitors are invited to stroll through the artists' quarters any day of the week. Witness ongoing creations -- sculpture, printmaking, jewelry making, rug hooking and other media -- in these open studios, and stop to chat with the artists about their work.
They welcome your purchases, of course, and will take cash, checks, and the occasional credit card. Studio artists exhibit their work in the second-floor Resident Artists' Gallery. Also upstairs is the Library Gallery, where art selected from a biennial competition open to Maryland residents changes every two months.
The Main Gallery exhibits art in all media by local, national and international contemporary artists. The gallery is programmed by invitation. Artists are welcome to submit proposals and there are annual open juried competitions as well.
Between the exhibited art and works sold by resident studio artists, you can spend anywhere from $10 to $15,000 on a single purchase. (Attention artists: The arts center takes a 25 percent commission off the price of exhibition pieces.)
"Arts" covers plenty of creative territory here. The center offers classes and workshops in the visual arts for children, teens and adults. These include painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, rug hooking and stained glass. There is a new digital lab which offers course in photography, animation and sound recording as well as traditional darkroom courses. The center also offers more unique classes: a bronze-casting foundry, a gas-fired reduction kiln, and an area for raku (an open-air, high-firing technique used to create rough, dark, lead-glazed earthenware). Classes in poetry, journal writing, and a special writing course for artists are also offered.
The A-frame pine roof in this gallery provides great sound quality, and the center has developed several performance series. Every spring and fall, the center's Main Gallery holds the Montpelier Jazz Series, where local fixtures like Buck Hill and nationally known performers like Marcus Roberts, play for an intimate audience of 120.
Sundays in the fall, the winners of the biennial Montpelier Recital competition play concerts. In May the center hosts the Folk & Blues series where musicians such as Odetta, Cephas and Wiggins, and local up and comer Lea have played.
A film series started in 2006, Dinner and a Movie, offers themed dinners four Saturdays every winter. All the centers performances are $20 ($18 for seniors and members). The recitals are free with a requested donation of $5.
To get to this arts oasis, take Baltimore-Washington Parkway to Route 197 (Laurel-Bowie Road). Head northwest about a quarter-mile toward Laurel. A shopping center marks the intersection with Muirkirk Road; take a left. The center's driveway is the first right.
-- Margaret Hutton