Friday, October 7, 2011

Pink Flamingos, Blue Crabs and a Theory aka the Overspilling of Kitsch in Baltimore - Guest Post

So.   The Cookin’ Canuck is on vacation.  And he has asked me and others to contribute something “design-related… to (our) part of the world.”  Get Arne -- he’s off to Spain on some glorious some such and he wants me to write about my little part of . . . here.  Maryland.  OK.  Baltimore to be exact and it does have its own unique sense of, well, Style.

And OK, Style and Design -- not really the same thing, but I am gonna write it; and I have been meaning to do so for awhile.  I mean – the age-old adage -- How do you know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been?  . . . Or something.   It’s rhetorical, and here we go.

. . . Baltimore, Maryland is “home” to the Chesapeake Bay, blue crabs and Natty Boh (that’s National Bohemian . . . beer).  It is known as the Land of Pleasant Living, as Charm City, and now for horrible, horrible, loosing baseball.  

Some of you may know it . . . Hairspray -- director John Waters’ portrayal of “mid-century” Bawlmer . . . Hon!  (That’s short for “honey” and it works best with our regional accent.  For background:   And he, Waters, about nailed it.  For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, or the stage adaptation, I’ll put it like this -- Baltimore is Camp . . . to the Extreme.

. . . And stuck in some strange vortex . . . irrevocably hip, yet, as I have read it written, with an inferiority complex.  Like Anytown, USA, but on steroids . . . or a Metropolis on downers.  I really haven’t made up my mind.  (I don’t think many have.)  I do think though that we as Baltimoreans . . . revel in it, no matter what it is – one part redneck at a cocktail party and another part billionaire at a fish fry.  Idk.

. . . pretty text book or travel guide or just way out there.  OK.  But let’s try this – What Baltimore’s Style really comes down to is . . . not the Camp or the Kitsch, but rather -- its own ability to invent and embrace a wholly unique “design” consciousness . . . diy and folky.  Art form(s) created at the exact point where the old south meets an old north.  One part out of necessity and one part just being, well . . . here.

Now, watch me work -- the housing stock (as we are housy-type people here):   Baltimore’s quintessential architectural form -- rows upon rows of rowhomes.  And as a builder/developer friend once told me, “There is only so much you can do with a railroad car stacked on top a railroad car – you know – a box.”  It’s about usable, (yes, my tongue is in my cheek) useful space.

It’s not uncommon to see full art installations on a small-patch-of-grass, front lawn.  Here in Baltimore, it seems, when our box of a home can not contain its artful stuffings, we/they spill out into the only place they can . . . into the urban outdoors.

And well, Hon . . . check it out:

Ex. A.  Murals
A great Article including Baltimore’s network of murals: -- Anywhere.  Philly.  Oh Yeah!  No camp, classic art form.  OK.

Ex. B.  Stained Glass Transoms
Baltimore’s stained glass transoms . . . (My own 1920s original lifted from our backyard in what I now call “the Stained Glass Incident.”)  This lovely artist Robin has already done a lot of my legwork; she is the source of the image above.  Here -- a multitude of examples of their most common form – with house numbers:

For those that are down, here’s two more links for your fix:  The Google search --  “stained glass transoms Baltimore” and some fab, more contemporary work:  Here >> & here >>

-- Brooklyn, DC, San Francisco. Idk.  Not Impressed. What?!  Not enough camp?  OK.

Ex. C.  “The Miracle on 34th Street”

34th Street Christmas Lights in Hampden from Seinberg on Vimeo.

OK.  Seasonal (though it is true you can find Christmas twinklies anytime of year).  And did you see that Santa Elvis!? OK.

Ex. D.  Painted Screens
Often featuring a utopian country setting or a prominent local landmark, this art form can be found throughout the city.  As a child I remember feeling like you couldn’t pass a house without one.  There are installations still being performed today.

For additional:  The work of screen painter Anna Pasqualucci, here >


To me it’s no surprise the American Visionary Art Museum has found a home here.  Known for its art car events and the annual East Coast Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race, it has been designated by Congress as America's national museum for self-taught art. Current exhibits include:  All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs & Karma and the Bling Universe

And OK, I know-- it is may not seem quite as kitschy as I may have suggested earlier, and some of the examples presented may not represent wholly how we-general do style or design.   You can, in fact, find almost any other American house type and also almost every other form of cultural activity here.  But . . . I still don’t know if we are good at putting that, it, into words . . . like some weird internal conversation -- “Yes we do.”  “Oh no, we dind’t!”  “Oh! Yes. Yes! We Did!” << And that is Baltimore.


Thanks for reading.  Thanks to Arne and have a safe, happy and fabulous vacation my friend.

jb is a consultant and one part of the blogging team at  Born and breed Baltimore, MD . . . he has also lived in York, PA; Leicester, England; Winter Park, CO; & Santa Cruz, CA.  He likes using ellipses and has traveled to other places … some.


Nick @ Cupboards said...

I'll accept that Maryland is part of the South for today... mainly because of the blue crabs and how much I like them. Ha!

Great finds, jb!

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...