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St. Mary’s serves as inspiration to realist art of George F. McWilliams

By ERICA MITRANO

Staff writer

Realist artist George F. McWilliams grew up on and alongside the water in St. Mary’s County. Now, he paints and draws what he knows. His exhibition of maritime and landscape scenes is on its last weekend at the Craft Guild Shop in Leonardtown, which vends the work of more than a dozen local artists and craftsmen.

On Friday, the shop will participate in Leonardtown First Friday, a monthly celebration of small business in the historic town. Saturday is the Porch Party, an annual celebration marking the guild’s 36th year. On Sunday, McWilliams will take down the watercolors and pencil drawings and head home to West Virginia, where he moved after he retired.

An Avenue native, McWilliams is also a muralist. He painted a mural depicting the arrival of the Ark and the Dove, bearing Maryland’s first colonists, for the St. Clements Island Museum in Colton’s Point. While employed by the U.S. Navy as a draftsman and illustrator, McWilliams also painted a mural on the wall of the old officers club at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, he said.

He never worked the water commercially, but his farming family spent plenty of time on the water crabbing and fishing for themselves, he said. Now that culture is vanishing, but he continues painting the old wooden boats as well as nature scenes.

Realism is the style that comes to him naturally, he said. He’s “not necessarily looking for something” in particular as an emotional response from viewers, but “a lot of the stuff, the water-type scenes, there’s a certain serenity associated with boats and reflected in the water and all that. If I can get that to come through in the work, that’s great. That’s up to the people looking at it to decide if it comes through or not,” McWilliams said.

While not intended to document Chesapeake Bay culture, his paintings serve that purpose, too, he said.

“It’s sad to see them go,” he said of skipjacks, of which only a few remain. “A lot of the guys that built those boats, they were artists in their own right, and those skills are just being lost.”

His work is sure to resonate with anyone who remembers the old watermen’s culture, or who is fond of what remains of it, said Craft Guild of St. Mary’s member Joyce Owen of Chaptico.

“I think for anybody that lives here in this area, in Southern Maryland, especially on the water, [and] anybody connected to the water and the boats and remembers the time back in the ’60s and ’70s when things were a whole lot different and the watermen were going out and making a good living on the water, his work takes you right back in time. The pictures of boats and the water, it’s local, and people will say it looks like a photograph,” Owen said.

Meet McWilliams from 5 to 8 p.m. May 3 and 4 to 8 p.m. May 4 at the Craft Guild Shop at 26005 Point Lookout Road in Leonardtown.

For more information, go to www.craftguildshop.com.