Tucked away in a renovated horse barn in Laurel, the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center is quietly providing an outlet for all manner of artists, dancers and musicians.
The current show -- the second invitational sculpture exhibit -- is worth the 35-minute trip, to see the 16 sculptures by Robert Engman in plastic, bronze, stainless steel and mahogany.
Engman is best known to Washingtonians for his outdoor bronze at the Hirshhorn, "After Iyengar." MCAC displays the study for that work, a smaller version built on the same intuitive geometry, in which sqares and circles appear out of the edges of hammered bronze sheets and loop within themselves to yield complex curvilinear forms. "Mathematicians ask for the formula," the center's director, Richard Zandler, says. "But there is none."
The arts center was established in 1979 on the grounds of Montpelier Mansion, an 18th-century home with boxwood gardens, carriage house and gazebo, where George Washington stopped on his way to and from the Constitutional Convention. According to local legend, the existing barn was given to the state with the stipulation that it not be used for horses, after a riding accident killed the owner's daughter in the 1930s. While under renovation, it burned and was rebuilt, complete with a solar-energy system. The new arts building in the old barn shape has a reading room in the silo and houses three galleries, including a community exhibit space where artists pay $75 to display their works for two weeks.
Downstairs, resident artists selected by jury produce and sell their prints, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photos, weaving and crafts. Because Laurel is off the beaten tourist track, conditions are "better for working here, better for selling at the Torpedo Factory," Zandler says.
MONTPELIER CULTURAL ARTS CENTER --Robert Engman sculpture through August 15; other continuing exhibits. Open daily, 10 to 5.