Out of the Wilderness: A Conversation with Michael Douglas Jones
In November , the Delaplaine will present its first Veterans Show, featuring artworks created by those who have served in the U.S. military. Michael Douglas Jones is participating in that exhibit and also will have a solo exhibition at the Delaplaine this fall. We chatted recently with the artist.
Delaplaine Arts: Please tell us a little about yourself!
Michael Douglas Jones: Let’s go back to the start. After high school, I couldn’t afford to go straight into college. I enlisted in the Air Force during the thick of the Vietnam War, not as a patriotic calling, but to have more choice in my destination. In 1968, any teenager who didn’t go to college was likely to be drafted into the Army. For four years, I trained and worked as a Staff Sergeant illustrator in the Air Force, and then returned to Maryland to study illustration in college, with the help of the G.I. Bill.
DA: How did you become involved with the Frederick arts community?
MDJ: I was first invited to Frederick about 30 years ago to help establish The Artists Gallery (TAG). At that time, the Delaplaine was still on the second floor of the Antiques Emporium on East Patrick Street. I had been exhibiting mainly in Annapolis, Bethesda, and Washington, DC. This was the first time I had experienced the camaraderie of so many artists working together for each other and the community. I was immediately enchanted by the city and its artistic culture, which has expanded greatly over the past 30 years. The Delaplaine has always been the center of that culture through both inclusion and outreach. Now, I’m an artist at Gallery 322 on North Market Street, and work with the Delaplaine and all of the downtown art galleries to continue building the arts culture of Frederick.
DA: Why is creating important to you?
MDJ: I clearly remember being 12 years old, often sitting alone in the forest, wondering how something as impossible as life could exist. It was, at equal turns, frightening and wondrous, a complex, circling dance between reality and illusion, between demons and dreams. Everything I ever created, as an artist or writer, was to find the essence of my own place in that dance, and our collective choreography as partners, barefoot and tiptoe, in that ineffable beauty. I create simply to stop the motion at the center, to capture one memory of this never-ending moment. I have nothing to teach, nothing to preach; I write about the wonder of it all, the oneness of me, you, and the waltz of this whirling world. I always start my l’assemblage artwork with an underlying timeless story, even though that isn’t a necessary function of the design. It is simply my way of working. My Air Force and college training is that of an illustrator and, even with an abstract piece, I have a back-story or, at the very least, a symbolism. There is only rule I follow: art should call your name from across the room, and then whisper certain secrets when you come close.
DA: Tell us about Our Ancient Pages, your exhibition at the Delaplaine.
MDJ: This exhibit presents a series of artworks based on the metaphor of the books we carry inside ourselves. Unlike the baggage we carry, these books are the positive memories and values we learned; the lessons and loves that we hold dear, and deeply, in our souls. These are the human collective, our ancient pages, tied together with twine, held together by heart. These are the written receipts for paid attention.
DA: Why is the Delaplaine’s Veterans Show important to you?
MDJ: I served during the Vietnam War, a time of turmoil here in America, so I rarely mentioned that I was a veteran until many years later, when the nation was more accepting of veterans, even if some of it was just lip service. When I was invited to participate in the Veterans Show, I was delighted to hear that this would not be an exhibition about warriors; this was to be a celebration of all the aspects of a veteran. We are not one dimensional. Our service has deepened our life experiences, both painful and pleasant, to produce someone far more than simply a warrior.
DA: What do you believe is the impact of creating art on veterans, and of veterans’ art on the community?
MDJ: During their military service, veterans were part of a tight-knit community but can often feel isolated once they return to civilian life. To be invited into the community of arts and service that the Delaplaine offers can be an important return to that camaraderie. Art is a story—that’s the way I’ve always worked at it. Telling your personal story is a path cut out of the wilderness, if your art is to be your truth. Veterans have a unique story and view of the world, and art is the perfect vehicle for that view. The community would do well to look deeply at the veterans’ art, to feel it, and not simply watch that parade.
Artfully Done: The Year in Review
Since 1986, The Delaplaine Arts Center has offered visual arts opportunities to the Frederick region, continually expanding and evolving our programs and services as our number of participants grows. From July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019 (fiscal year 2019 (FY19)), we welcomed more than 87,000 visitors to our award-winning facility on the banks of Carroll Creek in historic downtown Frederick. Our visitors are community residents, as well as visitors from throughout the region, nation, and countries around the world!
Creativity, inclusiveness, and collaboration remain the core values that focus our programming efforts. The Community Outreach Initiative partners the Delaplaine with a range of other nonprofits such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Arc, Head Start, the Housing Authority of Frederick, the Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, the Frederick County Department of Aging, and others, as well as local public libraries and schools, to bring free, customized art experiences to the at-risk and underserved in the region. There are also other component programs, like the Art Kit Project, which provides free, quality art supplies to youth experiencing crises or homelessness. These programs are impacting thousands each year, bringing encouragement and creativity, and improving the quality of life for individuals and families.
More than 260 classes and workshops were offered in FY19, and our classroom studios continued to evolve to better meet the requirements of the varied and growing curriculum. Presenting more than 50 on-site exhibitions each year means that visitors can always find something new to see and enjoy. Group and solo shows featuring local, regional, and national artists displayed a remarkable variety of media, content, and styles. Free admission to our galleries ensures that all were welcome.
Free and low-cost experiences like the M&T Senior Scholarship in the Arts program, Art Matters gallery talks, Helen Smith Free Workshops for Kids, Art Carnival, and Creative Outlet welcomed new and seasoned art lovers of all ages to our facility. Opportunities like these were made possible by generous gifts from the Delaplaine family, Delaplaine Foundation, the Maryland State Arts Council, the City of Frederick, M&T Bank, the Ausherman Family Foundation, and a large number of regional donors—people like you!
With your participation and support, the Delaplaine—YOUR arts center—will make an even greater impact this year. In FY20, we will continue to reach out to our community and beyond as we increase and improve our programming. We will expand our selection of classes and workshops to reflect current interests and inspire greater creative participation from those of all ages, continue to present exhibitions that move and educate our visitors, and extend a greater number of opportunities to our community partners. Together, we are bringing the visual arts to all in our region and making an important difference in our community. Because everyone deserves art!
Our Library Goes Worldwide
Although the Delaplaine’s Etchison-Davis Library has been open and growing for about two decades, many of our local visitors are still pleasantly surprised when they discover it. We’re now working even harder to let people know about the treasure in their downtown back yard.
“Beginning in January of this year, we initiated a comprehensive effort to make our collection of art books more accessible to our surrounding communities and the national art library community,” explains Thomas Canavan, Director of Programs at the Delaplaine. The library features more than 3,100 books on the visual arts, with many more recent donations waiting to be included. For the first time, staff and volunteers are working together to make the collection available online, so that more people can search for specific books and our visitors can access them directly. The results of this ongoing and meticulous process can be found at etchisondavis.libib.com.
In June, we turned our sights beyond Frederick County and introduced the Etchison-Davis to art librarians from across the U.S. at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Thomas delivered a presentation about the library’s history; its founder, Jean Davis; and our hope for the future of the library as a place where anyone can come to access artwork and artists either in person or through our online database, for those around the world who cannot come to Frederick.
While the library grows digitally, it continues to grow physically. “We are interested in expanding our collection to include more artists and art history from Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, as well as Black, Latino, Asian, and women artists from the U.S.,” says Thomas. “We are also looking for volunteers to assist us in the next phase of cataloging our current donations.” If you are interested in making a donation, contact Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in volunteering with the cataloging effort, contact Melanie Gettier, Visitors Services Manager, at email@example.com.
The noncirculating Etchison-Davis Library is open during the Delaplaine’s regular hours of operation. Admission is free.
Roll With It: Getting Creative with the Art Carts
The Delaplaine hosts tens of thousands of people each year, many of whom visit when no public programs are scheduled. Although the individuals and families who are visiting at those times may view the exhibitions in our galleries, they aren’t able to engage directly in hands-on, creative activities—or at least they weren’t able to. Interactive experiences are one of the best ways to engage visitors, spark creativity, and cultivate appreciation and support for the arts, and now, thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Frederick County, that’s precisely what our new Art Carts provide!
“The Art Carts will engage visitors of all ages by encouraging them to create something fun that they can take home with them,” explains Melanie Gettier, Visitor Services Manager at the Delaplaine. “People enjoy visiting art galleries and museums, but typically they aren’t allowed to touch. Now, they have the opportunity to get creative and have fun!” The Art Carts will be set up at various locations in the arts center, stocked with art supplies and instructions to complete a simple project, which will change periodically.
An “ArtSpotting” gallery scavenger hunt activity also is available! The clues change each month as exhibitions change. Both the Art Carts and ArtSpotting are provided to visitors at no cost, and are available during the Delaplaine’s regular hours of operation. Delaplaine admission is free.