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Articles by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Reluctant osprey still have several weeks to enjoy Chesapeake fishing

“The osprey’s back again this morning,” wrote Ron Wolfe in early October. “This one, sometimes accompanied by another, apparently failed to receive the fall migration memo,” Wolfe, a fisherman, added. “I suspect it’s part of this year’s hatch and doesn’t want to leave the only home it knows.”
    Not to worry, advises Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Dave Brinker. “Birds are like people,” Brinker told Bay Weekly. “Some leave early, some leave late.
    “It really hasn’t gotten cool enough for most birds to start moving just yet,” he explained, noting that in the last week of September, “I saw osprey in New York, all the way up to Maine,” where he is banding saw-whet owls.
    “When the water temperature begins to cool, the fish are less active. Once the food source is hard to find, the birds will move on.
    So, Brinker concluded, “This bird hasn’t missed the boat just yet.”
    Compare previous years’ osprey migration patterns in ornithologist Rob Bierregaard’s long-term studies at www.opsreytrax.com.

How you cope when rain won’t go away

October ranks high on my list of favorite months — third after June and July. But June and July are not always ideal. When they follow Shakespeare’s caution — Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d — October rises in my estimation. It could climb to second in 2016, when June was splendid but July not so.
    So far, the weather gods are not cooperating.
    In its early days, October 2016 has brought us rain, rain, rain — and more likely coming.
    Hurricane Matthew will do far worse to poor Haiti, where weather routinely beats down a country and people already devastated by centuries of exploitation and bad government.
    Next, Matthew may come north for a visit.
    “The potential bad news for our area is that forecasters and models are predicting a path that brings this extremely powerful hurricane dangerously close to the East Coast of the United States,” Anne Arundel County advised early this week. “This storm should not be discounted.”
    Or Matthew may not call on us. With hurricanes you never know.
    Which can unsettle many an apple cart more fully loaded than mine with hopes and expectations.
    For one, the U.S. Sailboat Show.
    Thousands of people are converging on a mile and a half of floating docks. Surging tides below and rain falling from above — along with big winds blowing — is not the October scenario for which Boat Show organizers hope. They’ve balanced the odds of two good weekends — for the Powerboat Show follows on October 13 — for 46 years. Hurricanes have threatened, but so far they’ve all veered off. There’s been rain, like last year, when City Dock was underwater during setup, and water so high that people needed boots to see the boats. One year there were even snow flurries. But never a total washout. Not a species to be stopped by wind or water, boat fanciers turn out rain or shine. So the hatches — make that tents — are battened down and the lines strengthened. And the show goes on.
    One boat, however, won’t be showing off in Annapolis this week. That’s the Hōkūleá, a 40-year-old replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe, which is using traditional wayfinding to chart a course around the world. For two years, this Hawaiian canoe has been traveling the globe, covering more than 100 ports and 27 nations to spread its cross-cultural message of Mālama Honua — caring for Island Earth — by promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness.
    Wrapping up its journey along the entire Eastern Seaboard and through both the Great Lakes and Intercoastal Waterway, Hōkūleá planned to stop in Annapolis October 9 to 12. Until Matthew got in its way.
    The much-anticipated visit has been postponed, says Annapolis Green, sponsor of the visit, “due to the possibility that Hurricane Matthew may impact weather in the Annapolis area.”
    Beyond boat shows, we feel the pain of organizers of all sorts of outdoors events celebrating October’s often ideal weather: fall festivals, the Renaissance Festival, Patuxent River Appreciation Days.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

So far, it’s just a surmise

Could it be pilot whales?    
    What was Clara Gouin’s surmise as she made quick assessment of the marine pod swimming beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just as she and Bay Gardener Dr. Francis Gouin crossed by truck above.
    “Driving over the Bay Bridge at 50 miles an hour, you don’t have a lot of time,” she said. “But looking straight down, I saw these large, dark shapes, at least 10 feet long, maybe more, with big blunt heads like whales, very dark, all under water. I saw their outlines, their shadows.”
    One was particularly well defined. “It was quite large and had huge pectoral flippers on each side, and it was paddling, using them in synchrony, at right angles.”
    Awed at a sight “I’ve never been privileged to see,” Gouin checked out the possibilities.
    Researching whales, she learned that pilots are a type of dolphin, thus cousins to the bottlenose dolphins that frequented the Chesapeake this year. Just this weekend — two days after Gouin’s sighting — two separate dolphin sightings were reported in the Rhode River, reports West-Rhode Riverkeeper Jeff Holland.
    Pilot whales leap like the now familiar bottlenose dolphins. But Gouin saw no leaping or dorsal fin showing.
    “I thought it could be dolphins,” Gouin said, but the silhouette was wrong, “too big and too dark.
    “I thought it could be manatees,” she said, but they, too, are smaller and usually solitary when they visit the Chesapeake.
    Whales seemed to fit the bill.
    Nonetheless, Gouin doubted herself. “I didn’t recall any visits by pilot whales,” she said, “but I noted online that they occasional do go into shallow bays as far north as Cape Cod.”
    Gouin also knew that humpbacks may be seen into the mouth of the Chesapeake
    Turning to experts at Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network got Gouin no closer to a reliable identification. But her report has passed up the ladder to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which manages live sighting reports, as a possible sighting.
    Could there be pilot whales in the Chesapeake?
    “It could be,” said the Network’s Amanda Weschler, but no sightings had been reported.
    Tell us your experiences at ­editor@bayweekly.com.

Farewell, Joe Browder: 1938-2016

“Most of what became our woods in 1981 was a farm family’s pasture 40 years ago. We didn’t have the decades to wait for honey-scented flowers to appear again on their own timetable. We also wanted to be able to smell the wild azaleas of the Smokies and Blue Ridge, of the north Florida river forests and the Carolinas,” Joe Browder wrote in the third issue of New Bay Times, which would become Bay Weekly.
    On May 20, 1993, as the native azaleas bloomed, the gardener — Joe — had been at work a decade reshaping the “cut and regrown woods” surrounding the hilltop home he shared with his wife, Louise Dunlap. As well as those Hammocksweets — named, he noted, by “the word once used in the deepest South to describe a patch of woods in otherwise grassy, marshy low country” — he planted “14 other native American azalea species and hybrids.”
    Over 35 years, Joe’s woods matured into an encyclopedia of beloved species, diverse magnolias sharing place of pride with native azaleas, making “the air more fragrant, the woods
brighter, the hummingbirds’ and butterflies’ menus more diverse, our lives on the Bay richer.”
    In an era when “genetic genies are out of the bottle — with millions of non-native, nursery-bred azaleas planted in Bay country — Joe was not an advocate of punctilious correctness. He believed in making the best of the world in which we find ourselves and preserving what we have left. He not only planted but also lived and worked by that philosophy.
    Joe and Louise lived in Fairhaven, in Southern Anne Arundel County, overlooking Herring Bay. But they worked as environmental lobbyists in Washington. Political animals, we called them, for their intensity and ability to speak to all sides on an issue. Not all of Joe’s clients were perfect; some were genies well out of the bottle, interests that Browder could nudge into earth-friendlier directions.
    Joe balanced what must be by devoting himself, pro bono, to causes that, if lost, would make our world a far poorer place. In the Florida Everglades, Joe is being recalled as legendary for his success in holding back development.
    A former TV reporter in Florida turned advocate, Joe helped secure protections for the threatened Big Cypress Swamp, and he helped add vast swaths of sensitive lands and waters to the National Park system. He was a key player in stopping construction — already under way — of a destructive commercial airport in the Everglades.
    In a Miami Herald obituary this week, Nathaniel Reed, a former top Interior Department official, cited Joe’s “incredible energy and determination” that helped bring about an order from then President Richard Nixon to stop funding for the jetport.
    Closer to home, in the mid-1990s Joe negotiated between citizen advocates of SACReD — South County Citizens for Responsible Development — and then County Executive John Gary to broker the deal that preserved Franklin Point, Shady Side’s largest tract of undeveloped waterfront land. Franklin Point is now a 477-acre state park, supported by the West/Rhode Riverkeeper so it can be open daily from dawn to dusk.
    “We really do need to be careful,” Joe wrote in that reflection for old New Bay Times. “The air in these Fairhaven woods will be as sweet for the people who live here 40 years from now, if the families and communities of the Chesapeake are lucky, and vigilant.”
    Joe was vigilant, and we have been lucky — through, in no small part, the work he did to make it so.
    Joe and Louise had decades. They lived among azaleas and magnolias, in sight of Chesapeake waters for 35 years. But they did not have decades to lose. Joe Browder died, at home with Louise, in Fairhaven, Sunday, September 18, 2016.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Read this week’s paper with caution; it could lead you astray

Summer did its job on me.    
    It gave me plenty of time outdoors, much of it on the water, by the water and in the water, which is my favorite form of renewal.
    Lots of summer I spent boating on the Chesapeake, bathing in the ocean at Chincoteague, paddling on the Missouri River beneath the White Cliffs described by Meriwether Lewis as worn by water trickling down “into a thousand grotesque figures” so that “we see the remains or ruins of elegant buildings; some columns standing and almost entire with their pedestals and capitals.” But not so much as to eliminate precious reading hours friend Farley calls “news and snooze.” When it was just too darned hot, I news-ed and snoozed inside.
    Vacation helped too, with the wild and rugged terrain of Montana, where rivers always seem to run through it, giving me new perspective.
    So I tied up the season buzzing with ideas. Husband Bill Lambrecht and I came up with so many new projects that I had to use all 10 fingers to count them. I’ve gone so far as to put them in an accounting book, enumerating their step-by-step realization.
    On the domestic front, there’s not a curtain safe from me, and when I’ve changed them (and washed the windows underneath), I start moving pictures and furniture. Though I had to stop that this weekend to can a couple dozen pints of tomatoes while Bill was slicing jalapenos, poblanos and banana chiles for this year’s pickled peppers.
    Effectiveness is a great thing. But I may be courting too much of it, Bill suggested, when I turned down an invitation to a boating party in favor of cleaning the kitchen.
    This week’s paper is the antidote.
    Whether you’re mourning your summer or energized out of all proportion by it, this year’s Fall Fun Guide, 50 Ways to Leave Your Summer, will set you right.
    To bring it to you, calendar editor Kathy Knotts has skimmed the cream from her bulging inbox. From September 22’s autumnal equinox to Thanksgiving, she’s collected 50 ways for you to use this season as playfully as (I hope) you used Bay Weekly’s Summer Fun Guide over summer’s 101 days. You’ll find fun in festivals, field, farm and water.
    Through October you can time-travel at the Renaissance Festival … hob-nob with dream boats … run like the wind … celebrate Oktoberfest … wander through labyrinths of corn … seek the great pumpkin … share in the local harvest, including beer, wine and oysters … dress up your self, your kids and your dog for Halloween … enjoy ghostly company … trick or treat … walk on the wild and the dark side … explore local history and trace your family to kings and knaves. Into November, you can prepare for Thanksgiving by running for fun and fitness and for Christmas by building in gingerbread.
    We know so many ways to leave your summer that you’ll have to pace yourself — for one, lest your good intentions of high achievement go by the wayside. And for two, because come November 17, we’ll be guiding you into the great holiday celebrations with Seasons Bounty.
    So proceed carefully into 50 Ways to Leave Your Summer. You don’t want to have too much fun.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Preserve their legacies and honor their memories

This time of year, you’d rather think of anything but September 11, 2001.
    Back-to-school rhythms combine with lowering humidity to renew our energy. The sky — typically true-blue this time of year — seems our only limit. I’m full of plans for working smarter than ever before. The outdoors welcomes us again, as first-time Bay Weekly contributor Laura Dunaj reminds us in this week’s feature introducing beginners to backpacking, backed up by Chesapeake Curiosity columnist Christina Gardner’s inquiry into the Appalachian Trail.
    But September 11, 2001, happened, and its long shadow falls on us, especially at this time of year.
    Outrage at the terrorist audacity never goes away. Mourning never ends for all the lives lost on that day.
    Neither, I think, should ever end celebration of the unique vitality of each of those lost lives. What can you do to combat that unconquerable terrorist, death? Living well and regarding each life are the only ways I know. So I’m going to leave talk about fun and fulfillment to other weeks. Next week, for example, when our Fall Fun Guide brings you 50 Ways to Leave Your Summer.
    This week, I’m going to name people of Chesapeake Country so recently targeted by death that they’re being no longer among us is still unbelievable. This list is of course incomplete, as it is my list. There are many others — husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, neighbors — whose legends live in your telling. In obituaries and your recollections, many who I barely knew have touched me these September days. I hope you’ll add the names and fame of people who’ve touched you. Send it to me if you like, for publication in Your Say.
    I’m remembering:
    Mary Brinton, of Millersville, mother of two generations of artists, including Jean Brinton-Jaecks, who has taught so many of us in Chesapeake Country; artist in her own right, creating flocks of painted birds with carver husband Earl.
    Randall ‘Randy’ Brown, of Severna Park, whose abhorrence for waste led to a career in recycling, culminating at Clean Islands International and the Virgin Environmental Resource Station, a living field biology classroom whose students range from university, research and environmental groups to Virgin Islands school children.
    Joseph Allen ‘Sambo’ Swann, of Owings, mastermind of family-owned and run Swann Farms, whose farm-fresh fruit and vegetables made eating local a delicious reality for Southern Maryland and beyond, all the way to Baltimore and D.C. His strawberries begin the good-eating season; his peaches are now in season.
    Robert Timberg, of Annapolis, journalist, author and Marine, overcame disabling and disfiguring burns suffered in Vietnam to rise to the top of his profession as The Baltimore Sun’s White House correspondent, telling thousands of other people’s stories, including stories of fellow U.S. Naval Academy graduates John McCain, James Webb, Oliver North, Bud McFarlane and John Poindexter in his book, The Nightingale’s Song — finally telling his own story in two autobiographies, State of Grace and Blue-Eyed Boy.
    And my Illinois friend, writer Tom Teague, whose life began and ended on September 11 ___ years apart.

~~~~~

    To preserve the legacies and honor the memories of Sambo Swann and Phyllis Horsman, of Horsman Farms in St. Leonard, a Calvert County Farm Bureau Young Farmers scholarship is being created. You can be in on the ground floor by buying tickets for the first fundraising event, Dining in the Fields, an all-local outdoor dinner and gals Thursday, October 6, at The Cage, an historic Calvert County farm on the Patuxent River. Buy tickets at www.calvertfarmbureau.com/dining-in-the-field.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Tell that to the people you meet this week

Everybody’s got a story.    
    Many of those stories are never told.
    Children grow up with no idea of their mothers’ and fathers’ hopes and dreams, struggles and frustrations, hard roads and high times, determination and doubt. This very week, two friends have told me, with regret: “I never knew …”
    It’s not only husbands and wives whose partners work at NSA who couldn’t tell you what they do. Most of us have no clear idea of what keeps our husbands, sisters, best friends busy. Oh she’s in computers, they might say.
    We think we know. We’re just too busy to ask. It never occurred to us to wonder. Many of our stories remain unknown and untold until our obituaries — if anybody bothers to write us one.
    I can’t bear letting all those stories go.
    If you’ve met me, I’ve probably peppered you with questions.
    “Are you interviewing me?” a reserved friend asked over lunch the other day.
    “No, I’m interested in your story,” I told her.
    “But you’re likely to become a Bay Weekly story,” warned the third in our group.
    Telling the stories of Chesapeake Country — yours, your family’s, your neighbors — has been our job at Bay Weekly these 23 years. You’ve read, I hope with pleasure, chapters of those stories in issue after issue since April 22, 1993. A few among thousands come immediately to mind: the Balloon Man of Annapolis (www.bayweekly.com/node/34431) … Calvert County skateboarders Wayne Cox and Joey Jett (www.bayweekly.com/node/34205) … The Vera behind Vera’s White Sands in Lusby (www.bayweekly.com/old-site/year06/issuexiv25/leadxiv25_1.html) … our own Bill Burton, the great outdoorsman and outdoors writer who retired from the Baltimore Evening Sun to our pages (many, including the last: www.bayweekly.com/old-site/year09/issue_33/features.html).
    The stories in this week’s issue are a little out of the ordinary, focusing on the stories of our advertisers.
    Before making this decision, our editorial board — Alex Knoll, Bill Lambrecht and I — have been alert to the many ways our colleagues in journalism fight for survival in our fast-changing world. Common nowadays: credited sponsors, sponsored content, columns representing special interests, whole sections of bought stories in news format.
    The synthesis of our reflection is the Bay Weekly Local Business Guide you’re reading.
    In it, we attempt to tell the stories of our sponsors, the people whose advertising brings you Bay Weekly issue after issue — plus advertisers who thought this particular edition would make a good test of our readership.
    We’ve wanted to know what makes them tick: Why they got in business, why they keep it up, what their rewards are. In other words, we’ve asked them much the same questions reporters ask strangers or those enjoying their 15 minutes of fame.
    Pulling it all together took the whole Bay Weekly team, from ad reps Lisa Knoll, Audrey Broomfield, Donna Day and Karen Lambert; production staff Alex Knoll and Betsy Kehne; myself and staff writer Kathy Knotts, contributing writer Victoria Clarkson and intern Kelsey Cochran, now back at Gettysburg College.
    So it’s not just me but all of us who hope you enjoy learning the stories behind the businesses. If reading them takes you through their doors, be sure to say,
“I read about you in Bay Weekly.”

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

By our work we make ourselves and our world

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, the poet Chaucer wrote in the century before Columbus bumped into the New World, and I know what he means. Not April, when his folk were longen, but August — the last slice of summer before Labor Day sets the work year rolling again — puts the longen in me.
    So husband Bill Lambrecht and I joined a New World pilgrimage, 22 souls paddling 46 miles down the Missouri River, through the Wild West landscape of the Missouri Breaks, in the wake of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. (They, of course, paddled and mostly pulled upstream to discover America’s way west. Downstream, as on their 1806 return journey, is much easier, with a current of about three miles an hour pushing you.)
    Off the grid, I’ve had my hands on no keyboard and my eyes on wondrous sights. My ears I couldn’t help but keep open. Nor could I suppress the journalist’s urge to ask questions.
    The first question you ask a stranger is, Where are you from? From Maryland, only us. From Virginia, Richmond specifically, four. From Wisconsin, three. From North Carolina, two; Colorado, one; Montana, a half-dozen; Canada, one — but her Alberta home is only six hours away.
    The second is likely What do you do? Which led me right back to the Bay Weekly in your hands. And confirmed our findings in all the years we’ve done this now annual issue: the work we do makes us who we are.
    Coloradan Paul DeWitt couldn’t bear the confines of the cubicle. So he broke loose, transitioning through fine furniture making — “I’d never make a living at the prices I had to charge” — to making his hobby his living. A long-distance trail runner, DeWitt set and held, “briefly,” he says, the record for the Leadville Trail 100-mile ultra-marathon: 17 hours, 16 minutes, 19 seconds. Now DeWitt works as a coach for extreme-distance trail runners, coaching online and in elite on-trail settings, say up and down the Grand Canyon a couple of times. The work he does shows in his body. If our paddle had been a race, he would have won.
    But right behind him would have been his mother and father. “We’re an athletic family,” said she, who’s run the Boston Marathon. An active marathoner, DeWitt senior went from football to boxing to coaching at North Carolina State University.
    Then, perhaps, Ingrid Stenbjorn, the corporate exec turned yogi. Unless mathematician Steve figured and beat the odds.
    Followed by the rest of us pilgrims, a psychiatric nurse practitioner; a party of five canvas suppliers and big tent manufacturers, one having just jumped the corporate ship of Cabela, the giant outdoors equipment seller; a development director for the Wisconsin State Youth Symphony with her engineer husband and aspiring journalist son; a city administrator; a corporate marketer and an IBM retiree, agile as a gymnast … and a couple of journalists.
    All of us were led by the indefatigably resourceful Kevin O’Brien, an anthropological archaeologist who has followed the trail of the Missouri River natives — and of Lewis and Clark — from St. Louis up the 2,341-mile river.
    To all of them and to you, from Missouri River country to Chesapeake Country, I tip my river hat. By what we do we make ourselves and make this wide, rich and amazing world. Happy Labor Day!

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Precious time is ticking away

This time of year makes you think like that.    
    If seasons had clocks to tell the passing of their days, we’d read the numbers 8:25 with advancing insight.
    Ah, it’s getting late, we’d think. Insects have struck up their string and tympanic bands. Even early in the day, the light has a melancholy radiance that reminds me of the lost moments of old photographs. School busses are rolling and kids waking with the sun rather than noonish. Sunsets are getting ­earlier, 7:45ish, meaning we’ve shot past the coincidence of calendar time and sunset time toward longer hours of darkness.
    But, we’d say, it’s not too late yet.
    Late summer has arrived as a blessing, sweetening our temperaments, ending our ennui and letting us go out to play. Temperatures are blissful and, after two months of stewing, we’re comfortable in our skins and in our world. Meteorological summer has still a month to go, while astronomical summer is ours until Sept. 22.
    Seize the day, seize the season, seize the hour.
    To guide the way, our paper this week is full of fun-seizing opportunity.
    To find out who’s now pushing the edge of the envelope in live music, read The Kids Are Alright. In that scene-setting story, contributor Selene San Felice, who’ll graduate college this year, introduces her generation of musicians. (Bonus points to readers who pick up the hidden references in this paragraph.)
    For a broader range in tastes and times, you’ll find more music in 8 Days a Week’s wide-ranging, weeklong listing of concerts and club dates.
    If your taste is Victorian, this Thursday is your night, when Jane Austen’s songbook is opened at Hammond-Harwood House.
    If hard-rocking outdoors summer concerts staged like mini-festivals are your thing, Friday is your night, when Goo Goo Dolls and Collective Soul play at Calvert Marine Museum.
    On a more intimate scale, most every night is your night to sit at the Tiki bar or on the beach to hear who’s up at Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa’s classic bandshell.
    You’ll still find concerts in the park this week, too.
    Beyond music, 8 Days a Week guides you — and all the ages in your family — to dozens of ways to seize the season.
    If you’re of age, how about Saturday at Goshen Farm, with wine-tasting, noshes and jazz to benefit the historic farm?
    August 27 is a late-summer day offering too many good things to make your choices easy. You could watch jousting at Calvert’s 150th festival dedicated to Maryland’s state sport and country pleasures. Learn more about jousting in this week Chesapeake Curiosities on page 4.
    Or join the Beaches & Bay Breezes Festival in Annapolis.
    Or hit the opening weekend of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
    Or cheer on dragon boats racing in Solomons. (Do you think the Chinese will adopt skipjack racing?)
    Or learn to fly fish in saltwater with the West & Rhode Riverkeeper and the Free State Fly Fishers Club.
    That’s just a taste of Saturday. 8 Days a Week brings you seven more days full of opportunity every week.
    I know. At this time of year, you want to do it all.
    I’m sorry to burden you with so many choices. But keeping you active in life in Chesapeake Country is what we do, weekly, at Bay Weekly.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

How some of the world’s most famous art found safe refuge in early-America’s Annapolis

You’d want to know if you were neighbor to a secret treasure of masterpieces.
    So I’m telling you.
    Sixty-three paintings by great Northern European masters — Jan Breughel, Rubens and Van Dyck among them — lived quietly in Annapolis for two years, and Prince George’s County for 16 more years.
    “There was no collection of old master paintings remotely like it in this country,” says Arthur Wheelock curator of northern baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art. “In fact, in both quality and quantity, no collection of Flemish art in this country would rival it until late in the 20th century.”


    They were here, and then they were gone.
    What were they doing here?
    Where are they now? That’s the mystery that obsesses Susan Pearl.

On the Run
    To unravel that mystery, return in time to 1794, when the newly independent United States of America was a safer haven than war-tossed Europe.
    As ripples from the French revolution threatened Antwerp, art collector Henri Stier fled.
    “He got the paintings and his family out,” recounts historian Pearl.
    By horse and carriage and by sailing ship, family and the art collected by Steir’s grandfather-in-law, Michel Peeters, traveled: 63 paintings protected in heavy wooden crates.
    At the core of the collection were, Wheelock says, “masterpieces by Flemish artists, although it also included paintings by, among others, Jacob van Ruysdael, Rembrandt, Titian and Tintoretto. The collection contained no fewer than 10 paintings by Rubens and six by Van Dyck.”
    The displaced Belgian family and their paintings took up residence for two years in Annapolis, renting the William Paca House.
    At the time “there was good society here, very fashionable, with lots of parties,” says Historic Annapolis curator of collections Pandora Hess. Henri Stier’s young daughter Rosalie and George Calvert met and married there.
    But the paintings remained a secret treasure.

Hidden in the New World
    Stier, an aristocrat who owned three homes in Belgium, had landed ambitions in the New World. He bought 800 acres in the Anacostia watershed, near the port town of Bladensburg. But before his house was finished, he was back in Belgium. In 1803, Riversdale became the home of Henri’s daughter Rosalie and her husband George Calvert, of Maryland’s founding family. The plantation gained renown, but not the paintings. They remained a family secret.
    From 1794 to 1816, the paintings stayed crated, lifted out only to be wiped clean of mold, shown to just a few artists. Only a few of the smaller paintings were hanging in one parlor and seen by visitors.
    Nobody saw them. Nobody enjoyed them.
    Then Napoleon met his Waterloo, and Europe was again safe.
    Send the paintings home, Henri wrote his daughter in December 1815. His letter traveled by ship. She received it in February. Ever dutiful, she planned their journey home.
    They’d have left unseen were it not for the pleas of American painters Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart. At Paca House and Riversdale to paint the family, they’d had peeks at the paintings. Peale wrote that Stier “had placed before me three excellent portraits, by Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck, as objects of inspiration for a young artist.”
    Convinced by these artists “that it would be a public wrong that such a collection of pictures — the like of which had never been in America — should pass out of the country entirely unenjoyed,” George and Rosalie Calvert opened their house. In the spring of 1816, Washington society mingled with artists and collectors at the first blockbuster art exhibit in this country.
    “Some of the finest paintings ever in America,” they were called by Sarah Gales Seaton, wife of the co-editor of the National Intelligencer.
    On June 2, 1816, the paintings were again crated to repeat their journey by horse-drawn carriage, then by ship from Baltimore to Antwerp.
    They crossed the Atlantic a second time aboard the sailing ship Oscar, subject to tempest, predation and shipwreck.
    They survived the crossing. What became of them then?
    Tracking the 63 keeps Pearl busy.

The Wide World Over
    Pearl’s quest began in her office. She worked upstairs in the mansion before it was restored as Riversdale House Museum. Her job — researching historic structures for Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission — bumped her into the secret treasure.
    Original letters and papers told her part of the story. The more she learned, the more she wanted to know.
    What had become of them? Where were they now?
    “Finally, I hit the gold mine,” she told me. A genealogist hired by Henri Stier’s fifth-generation descendants shared copies of the “masses of letters” back and forth across the Atlantic.
    With letters, a sketchy packing list — written as family hastened to escape French armies in 1794 — and a catalogue of sales, she set about tracing their post-American journeys.
    Art is long; life is short. The owners died, but the paintings thrived, increasing in value with age.
    Each owner’s death led to an auction that disbursed the paintings more widely. At their sale in 1817, Henri Stier bought his 20 favorites from the collection that had been at Riversdale. His death in 1821 returned one painting to Riversdale. George Calvert — widower of Rosalie, who died three months before her father — purchased Rubens’ Romulus and Remus. That painting crossed the Atlantic a third time.
    Cross-checking list after list with the original packing manifesto, Pearl has successfully traced 20 of the 63 paintings that had long ago found refuge in Chesapeake Country. They are the most prominent and valuable ones, mostly kept in the family.    
    “I find it amazing how much information about that collection one can pull together from the packing list, Rembrandt Peale’s account and descriptions of the works in subsequent sales,” Wheelock said.
    Romulus and Remus continued in the American Stiers’ family and is now in the keeping of the North Carolina Museum of Art.
    Two more are in America: Rubens’ painting of his brother Philippe in the Detroit Institute of Art and Jan Brueghel’s wonderful The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
    The Van Dyck portraits of Philippe LeRoy and his bride Marie de Raet hang in the Wallace Collection in London.
    At the outbreak of World War II, several paintings owned by the European branch of the family found sanctuary in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, where they remain.
    Pearl has seen almost all 20.
    “Twenty out of 63 doesn’t sound like a lot,” Pearl says, “but it actually is, considering what you have to do to track them down.”
    As for the others, she says, “I’ll probably be working on it for the rest of my life.”

See for Yourself
    Here it is 2016, the bicentennial of Michel Peeters’ collection’s departure from America.
    And here they are, 16 of the found paintings of the original 63, on exhibit again at Riversdale.
    “Of course we couldn’t get the originals,” Pearl admits.
    Masterpieces are not loaned to county museums with neither security nor ideal air and lighting conditions. Instead the museum purchased high-resolution digital images that, printed and framed locally, now hang throughout the Riversdale House Museum.
    “The exhibit is a wonderful way to step back in time, envision the original paintings and feel the excitement visitors experienced when world-class Old Master paintings were publicly displayed in Riversdale Mansion in the spring of 1816,” said Carol Benson, director of Anne Arundel County’s Four Rivers Heritage Area.
    Docents lead tours, “electronically enhanced” with hand-held tablets that interpret and enlarge paintings for inspection of detail (though connections are temperamental).
    It’s a sight worth seeing, especially now that you know the story.


    Open Friday and Sunday 12:15-3:15pm thru Oct. 23. (On Sunday, Sept. 18, a University of Maryland quintet plays Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition): $5 w/age discounts: 301-864-0420; riversdale@pgparks.com.
    Copies of the Stier-Calvert correspondence are held in the Riversdale Historical Society archives.