MOUNT RAINIER — Rita Elsner moved into her neighborhood in Mount Rainier after knowing about Prince George’s County’s Gateway Arts District for about 20 years.
She had known about Joe’s Movement Emporium down the street since it opened in the 1990s and had been watching it grow. She had always admired them and the community in the Gateway Arts District.
“Since I was a child I would draw,” she said. “Things I saw in the newspaper and objects around the house. I did study in college, and I became an illustrator. I think because it’s a good blend of design and fine art where art resembles life.”
After moving into the neighborhood and hearing about Gateway Open Studios, Elsner made sure to get on the list as soon as possible. In her first year participating, on May 11 she opened her house to the public to view and purchase her art which is inspired by aerial views, memorials to family members and her own personal worldviews.
“I like editorial illustrations which are categories of illustration where you basically are supporting a story through visual content,” Elsner said. “So I’m taking those skills and bringing them to the lives of people I’m close to by telling their stories…I like it when it’s a personal project which helps me to thrive.”
Elsner was one of 180 artists along with 100 studios and 43 venues who participated in the 15th annual Gateway Open Studios, the region’s largest one-day visual arts festival.
The event consisted of a self-guided walk through tour of the Gateway Arts District which includes Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, Brentwood, North Brentwood, Cottage City and Riverdale.
As visitors walked through the Metropolitan Region’s largest arts district, they got to take a look at internationally renowned and locally recognized galleries, studios, workshops and art spaces.
These included everything from home studios such as Elsner’s, to large studios where multiple artists work such as ezStorage Studios in Brentwood and Red Dirt Studio in Mount Rainier.
“The Gateway Arts District is solidifying its place as an internationally renowned destination for galleries, emerging artists and art lovers,” said County Councilmember Deni Taveras (District 2).
“Open Studios events continue to provide residents with an opportunity to experience the many visual and performing arts community offerings in District 2 while providing our galleries and studios a platform for displaying their work. We are looking forward to a great day, and I encourage residents to join us as we celebrate the arts in District 2.”
Outside of the Mount Rainier Artist’s Loft, blank mannequins were getting a makeover by the artists from the studio. Vibrant colors and creative designs took over the figures, such as Ryann Kelly’s which featured chakras on one side of her mannequin and the tree of life on the other side to represent the balance of life.
Kelly is part of a collective called LW Art and Design. She went to Norfolk State University and got a degree in graphic design and, while pursuing her degree, got involved in different mediums and found that painting was her favorite. Having been creating professionally for nine years, she incorporates mental health into her work.
“I like to intertwine contemporary and modern art with my favorite time periods which are baroque and art deco, and I like to merge the two together,” she said. “Sometimes I touch on social issues also.”
Luther Wright, who manages Mount Rainier Artist’s Loft, sponsored the mannequin project and painted a mannequin as well. After painting the mannequin, he, along with a few other artists and police officers, were working on a community art piece where they were painting a police car. His portion of the piece, which he was painting on the hood of the car, was called “Unity” and was based on another painting he had done.
“This is a community engagement piece,” he said. “We’re trying to get the community to come out and help paint the police car and get them to engage with their local police. Ultimately, we want this to spread throughout the county, not just this area. So we’re just trying to set a good example.”
Amy Callner also opened her home studio, located in her attic, to the public where the walls were covered in drawings that she had done in her favorite medium: ink.
“I work in a very permanent medium. I work in ink, and I work in prints, I work in pen; it’s like doing a crossword only braver I think. I use this very permanent medium to capture very fleeting things.”
Callner has lived in Mount Rainier for 19 years. She has been a practicing artist for most of her life, but there was a gap where she was focusing less on her art because of her day job and being a single mom. She has recently rebooted her art practice and has been working this way for nine years.
“In the future, I hope I’m still making,” she said. “I’m exploring a lot of ideas about the idea of after and what happens after something happens. I like telling stories.”
Glenn Richardson brought a unique spin to his work. Setting up shop outside of independent studios collectively known as Artists By The Tracks, Richardson carves wood portraits using a chainsaw and then torching them to create a smoky finish to bring out the highlights and shadows.
He started doing it because “nobody else was.”
“It’s crazy, I’m handling a tool of destruction as nimbly as possible,” Richardson said. “It’s kind of like the sledgehammer and the butterfly. It’s completely unexpected, but at the same time, in a way it makes sense.”