Sparking History at The Peale

Published: Aug 11, 2022

A Civil-War-era jacket (blue) covered with embroidered words
Irene Chan, Spycode Civil War Jacket, 2022 - ongoing. Embroidery with metallic thread on wool jacket. Photo by Catherine Borg.

The commonly-told histories of the American Civil War don’t usually include any Asian stories, although Asian Americans were certainly engaged with the war to end slavery.

“Thomas Sylvanus (aka Ching Lee, Ye Way Lee, Ah Yee Way), was born in Hong Kong, brought as an orphaned child to America for schooling in 1852, but was enslaved in Baltimore,” says Irene Chan, an associate professor of visual arts at UMBC. “He ran away at age 16 to join the Union Army and served all the war years. His story, along with many 19th-century Chinese in America, has been forgotten.”

Chan’s new six-part intermedia work, “The Thomas Project,” is devoted to telling Sylvanus’ story in many mediums: fabric silkscreens, paper lithography, drawing, hand lettering, embroidery, and book arts, and debuts in August as part of SPARK: New Light at The Peale in downtown Baltimore. 

SPARK, an annual group exhibition of works by faculty, staff, alumni, and students at UMBC and Towson University curated by Catherine Borg, returns for its fifth edition August 13-September 25. SPARK: New Light features work from 24 artists, and opens concurrently with the Founder’s Day Grand Reopening of The Peale, a celebration of the completion of extensive renovations to the historic facility. Each of the annual SPARK exhibits has been made possible through a partnership with PNC Bank, which also helped secure the venue.

Photos of a Chinese soldier covered in paper resembling a uniform at UMBC's Spark exhibit
Irene Chan, Thomas in the War, 2022.  Paper lithography, in three frames, with hand-drawn overlay with calligraphy on golden yellow glassine. Photo by Catherine Borg.

Community spark

The Peale, the first museum building in the United States, was established in Baltimore in 1814 by the artist Rembrandt Peale. Over the course of its nearly 200 years, The Peale has seen many incarnations before landing on its current role as a center devoted to celebrating the unique history of Baltimore, and telling the stories of the city’s people and buildings. 

“The Peale is Baltimore’s community museum,” says Chan. “I have had the Peale space in mind throughout the development of ‘The Thomas Project,’ and this exhibit uses the unique architectural features of the room to tell part of Thomas’ story, starting with living his early American life in Baltimore.”

Chris Peregoy ’81, M.F.A. ’99, a photographer who manages the photo and print facilities for the Visual Arts department, also incorporated The Peale’s architecture into “Time Capsules,” his new work for SPARK: New Light. 

“Working with The Peale, I placed pinhole cameras on windowsills in east, south and west facing windows for six weeks in May and June,” Peregoy says. “The results capture the streak of the sun and the accumulated light that had fallen on the scene during the long exposure.”

a collection of circular images on a wall for Spark show
Chris Peregoy, detail of Time Capsules, 2021-2022. Archival pigment prints, 8” diameter each. Photo by Catherine Borg.

In all, 24 artists are exhibiting new work in SPARK: New Light. UMBC contributors include Chan and Peregoy as well as Lynn Cazabon, Adam Droneberg, M.F.A. ’22, Kathy Marmor (with Penny Rheingans), Lisa Moren (with Tsvetan Bachvaroff, Dan Deacon, and Woody Lissauer), Timothy Nohe, Corrie Francis Parks, Foster Reynolds-Santiago, M.F.A. ’22, and current IMDA graduate students Ahlam Khamis and Fahmida Hossain

Hossain’s video work, “Touch,”  focuses on the artist touching different objects in the context of urban life in her hometown, Dhaka, expressing the yearning for physical contact with loved ones and her friends.

“I am always curious about touching objects around me and feeling their textures, but the recent pandemic made us fearful of handling things,” says Hossain. “This work represents my visualization of the human brain, which is a subconscious world where we can have different personalities and experiences, like the changing abstract shapes in my video.”

Participating artists from Towson University include Mark Burchick, Grace Doyle, Carrie Fucile, Alexandra Garove, Danielle Hawk, Jinyoung Koh, Diane Kuthy, Jenee Mateer, Kat Navarro, Sookkyung Park, Lynn Tomlinson, and J. Yablonsky.

Black and white collaged image for Spark show
Fahmida Hossain, still from Touch, 2020. Digital video collage, 1 minute, 9 seconds.

Sparking creativity

Additional events will include an artist reception on the evening of September 7, and a cameraless photography workshop by Peregoy on the afternoon of September 11. 

The exhibition will draw to a close with a series of projected artworks by visual arts associate professor Kelley Bell, M.F.A. ’06, and performances by the Towson Percussion Ensemble, the UMBC Percussion Ensemble (a group featuring UMBC faculty and alumni), and the Umbilicus percussion ensemble over the weekend of September 23–25.

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SPARK: New Light opens August 13 and will run through September 25, 2022.  Opening festivities run from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. on August 13. Tickets are free of charge, and masks will be required to attend. Learn more at the UMBC Arts & Culture Calendar or by following The Peale.

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