Terri St. Cloud came to take her painted doors and other artwork down Friday. Her two sons helped, carefully pulling her watercolor poetry off the walls of the Wylde Women Gallery in Leonardtown.
St. Cloud and Tammy Vitale, a founding artist of the gallery at the Maryland Antique Center, say someone with the center objected to one of St. Cloud's pieces, turned it facedown and asked Vitale to remove it.
So they're leaving.
"It's censorship," Vitale said.
The people Vitale said objected to the work did not return calls seeking comment.
St. Cloud's painted doors, leaning in the gallery at one side of the antique center, are an unexpected jolt in a setting where vendors sell marble-topped bureaus, crocheted capelets and candelabras.
St. Cloud applied newspapers to a pair of old wooden doors. She then smeared and spattered dark red, blood-like paint over the newsprint and wrote the following words, all in capital letters:
"And then as if his soul was nonexistent, totally blind to his humaness [sic], totally blind to theirs, they cut his head off.
"He's a pawn. Just a pawn. A headless, lifeless, bloody pawn. Where does it stop? When does it stop? And the blood of the lambs spread doorway to doorway.
"Hold their ashes in your hands and tell yourself that your heart isn't splitting in two and your soul isn't wailing in agony -- and that the world is safer now."
St. Cloud said she created the piece after hearing about the beheading of hostages in Iraq last month.
She said it was not intended as a political statement.
"I was feeling agony. I was expressing my agony," she said. She said she could see that if people just read it quickly, they might "go political. I suppose if you're pro-war, I suppose you're going to feel attacked."
But the piece was not meant to be about war, she insisted. "That piece is about cutting off peoples' heads, about people dying."
Not the typical antique-shopping experience.
Vitale said she was not interested in limiting the artwork in the gallery to things that would keep customers happy or sell well.
"We tried to create a space with no doorkeepers -- we've never turned anyone down," Vitale said. "It was formed to give a place for artists in Southern Maryland who do not do the normal blue herons, lighthouse, landscape stuff."
St. Mary's isn't a welcoming place for edgy art, St. Cloud said.
Not that the gallery was full of in-your-face artwork. Several paintings were of lop-eared bunnies nestled in front of rose bushes, another featured an angel clasping a red horse lying on the ground, and clear glass ornaments had pastel feathers floating inside.
On Friday, as Vitale packed ceramic figurines in bubble wrap, Shelby Oppermann, who works as a framer at the antique center, gave her a hug. Vitale dissolved into tears.
"This might offend a couple people, " Oppermann said. "I can see a little bit of a problem with political things." She thought the issue could have been resolved with a little note next to the doors, a sort of disclaimer that said the views expressed were not the views of everyone in the center. "I hate to see them go," she said.
Other workers in the building didn't realize that all the Wylde Women -- a group of local artists -- were leaving and were surprised that the dispute couldn't be worked out in a different way.
St. Cloud turned to remove the doors. "I was told the gallery is not a place for agony," she said.