In its more than 150-year history, Druid Hill Park has seen transitions, just as many venerable urban locations often do. Yet, it has continued to serve as a green and peaceful respite to many communities in Baltimore and for the Jewish community in particular, up to the early 1960s.
Barbara Shapiro, life-long Baltimorean, city advocate and member of Beth Am Synagogue, intended to conjure up some of that past appreciation for the park and infuse it into the present at the second annual Art Outside, which she organized. The event attracted a diverse crowd, and attendees ran into old friends, as they browsed the more than 80 artist vendors who circled the reservoir on a perfect-weather Sunday. Food trucks and live entertainment, classic car displays and children’s activities were also offered.
“I hope they’ll get the feeling Druid Hill Park is a beautiful place and want to return and get the feeling that we live in one community and we’re all alike,” said Shapiro. She added, “There’s a burgeoning arts community here, it will give people a chance to see the artist’s work.”
Hilda Fisher, 86, has fond memories playing and picnicking in Druid Hill Park. She grew up just three blocks away on Brooks Avenue. Fisher attended Art Outside with her husband Alvin, 93, who grew up in Easterwood Park. The couple now lives in Owings Mills and attends Temple Oheb Shalom.
The art event was quite different in those days, recalled Alvin. “For one, the art was attached to the ironwork, [instead of in tents],” he said. He also remembered renting bicycles from Princeton Cycle (now Princeton Sports) for 50 cents and biking around the reservoir and park. Their daughter Marilyn Fisher, 57, remembered her parents taking her to the park and going to the annual art event as a child. “I remember it as a hip and cool and happening event,” she said.
Watercolor artist Lissa Abrams, 59, a member of Bolton Street Synagogue, exhibited at Art Outside for a second year. Her positive experience at last year’s event, in addition to her fond memories of the park, is why she returned. Abrams’ mother is the late Sen. Rosalie Abrams, and “Druid Hill Park was a big part of [the family’s] life back then, so it’s nice to be back here.”
“The festival is very well organized,” continued Abrams. “And it’s an event that draws people from [all over] the city – there are few things in Baltimore that are as diverse,” she said, citing the [Sunday] Farmers’ Market [on Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay streets under the Jones Falls Expressway] as another event that draws a diverse crowd. “The organizers are generous. They don’t take a percentage from the sales, so it attracts a wide range of artists.”
The work on display ranged from painting, photography and pottery to prints, textiles and jewelry. Most work was handcrafted, and the artists were on hand to talk about their offerings as well. Twice as many artist vendors participated this year than last, and event organizers estimated the attendance at 5,000 people.
Among special exhibits was the Distinguished Maryland Artists Collection, which contained work from Aaron Sopher, Grace Hartigan, Reuben Kramer and Ann Didusch Schuler among others. Most of the work in the collection was for exhibit only. Also on display in the tent was a poster advertisement from 1953, when Jewish Baltimore artist Amalie Rothschild had originally organized the annual event.
A special hands-on event was featured as attendees were invited to complete a mosaic in cooperation with Art with a Heart, for eventual placement at the Commodore John Rodgers Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore City.
Sheldon Goldseker of Pikesville attended with his friend, and former Baltimore resident, Joel Shor, who now lives in Florida.
Goldseker said the event “was very similar [to what it was in the ‘50s]: “It felt like walking into the past. I remember buying a couple of paintings,” he said, which he still has in his home. Goldseker remembers his father telling him stories about coming to the park with his family for picnics and sleeping overnight on blankets during exceptionally hot summers. “That was before air conditioning,” Goldseker said, laughing.
Artist Ellen Samet, 58, of Creations by El, is a regular exhibitor at art festivals, but she is choosy.
“I attempt to look for vending opportunities that are associated with charity organizations, I look for a social action connection,” said Samet. “But I have really fond memories of Druid Hill Park. I wanted to share my creative jewelry and decided to do it.”
Samet, like many Jewish Baltimoreans who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods, used to frequent the park for family outings. She remembers as a 5-year-old piling into the family’s white station wagon with its red interior to arrive early at the park to secure a picnic table close to the seesaw and swings. Her grandmother, Miriam Falk, would stop at a kosher deli and arrive with tongue, first-cut corned beef, rye bread, challah button rolls and chocolate coffee cake.
“I think it’s nostalgic for me when I think about Druid Hill Park, I like to think of [Art Outside] as bringing back that positive energy of the park,” said Samet. “I think it’s nice to look back at the park’s history and say. “Wow, it doesn’t have to be history, it can be a renewal.’”