The Montpelier Cultural Arts Center in Laurel launched its first major sculpture exhibition recently with a gala reception highlighted by concerts by the Army Field Band Brass Quintet, a flautist and a guitarist, and a slide show and lecture by nationally known sculptor Maurice Lowe.

Twenty new pieces of sculpture by Lowe, an Australian-American who was an assistant to famed sculptor Henry Moore in the late 1950s, went on display. His works are in acrylic, bronze, steel and wood. The experimental pieces, all of which were cast in his own foundry, have evocative titles like "Moonsmile," "Wishing Dome" and "Sounion."

The center is featuring the sculpture exhibition, which was opened to coincide with the receny held Eleventh International Sculpture Conference, in one of its four galleries housed in the centuries-old Montpelier Estate. It will remain on display until Aug. 15. The exhibition is augmented by one-person and resident artists' shows in other media during the next two months.

Lowe's sculpture pulls the eye, forces dual reaction -- some naughty, some nice -- and is rooted in Buddhist symbolism. Recurring spirals and lobes that hint of childhood influences mark much of his work.

William Lasansky, associate professor of art at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, offered fewer pieces of sculpture but they were no less important. Most of his were bronze wall pieces of human heads and faces in relief as if they were elaborate sepulcher covers or detailed gravestones.

Mixed media forms of sculpture, paintings, etchings and collages may be found in the center's three other galleries. Of note are the acrylic paintings and watercolors by Nili Mayer-Oser (through Tuesday); "Forms of Silence," etchings and prints by Freda Gardy (through July 31); and photo collages by Nevia. -- Joseph Shepperd Rogers -- (July 10-25).

Resident artists' prints and multi-media sculpture by Artrude Ludwig, Gary Irby and Clark Mester, woodworking by Peter Hanan, lithography and serigraphs by Judith Oak Andraka will be on exhibit Aug. 1-30 and a full mix of works by Nancy Lloyd will be shown Aug. 18-30.

The center, one of the newest facilities of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, was rebuilt by an open space grant and designed to give maximum light, studio and work space for 27 artists and craftsmen.

The galleries are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except holidays. Information on any of a dozen classes and workshops, and the availability of galleries and studio space may be obtained from the center director Richard Zandler, or his assistant, Heidi McLain, at 953-1993 or 490-2329.