LEGACIES OF OUR LAND 2016
A monthly supplement to The Delmarva Farmer
Manning’s artistry sheds light on local agriculture
FEDERSALSBURG, Md. — Local artist Bob Manning’s love for the landscape was first inspired when he began sketching the riverfront views of Manhattan and Long Island City while living in New York during the 1960s.
Among his favorite, albeit unusual, subjects were the power plants that could be seen towering above the horizon. “I was simply mesmerized by the sheer sizes and shapes of these things,” Manning says. “The smokestacks, the huge tanks — all of that — and the way the light hit them to create such interesting shadows.”
Making paintings of these complexes soon became the focus of Manning’s work.
Ultimately however, Manning’s beloved urban cityscapes would be replaced by the pastoral farm scenes of the Eastern Shore.
Following a successful career in advertising design, Manning moved to the Shore in 2002, where the artist’s eye was instantly drawn to the natural beauty of the agricultural landscape surrounding him.
“Particularly alluring to me were the great collections of grain bins, barns and farm equipment,” says Bob. “Their shapes reminded me of the power house complexes in New York — only now they were on farms!”
The scene for Manning’s first rural landscape was a chicken farm located in American Corner.
Then came two family farms in Federalsburg, followed by numerous paintings of farms near his home in Preston.
Showings of his work soon led to a number of commissions for “farm portraits” from farm owners or their families.
“Many of these properties were being sold and beginning to disappear and my paintings were a way to keep them alive,” he explains.
A large part of Bob’s farm painting journey included frequent drives along Route 50 in Talbot County.
“I could not believe the number of farms there were between Wye Mills and Trappe,” he says. “Little by little, I began to paint them while researching their history, discovering there was really quite a story here.”
In what Manning calls his “Endangered Species” collection, the artist created a combination of oil, acrylic, and pen and ink with watercolor pieces that represented the backbone of agrarian culture he had come to know and love.
While many of the farms on the Eastern Shore have changed hands over the years, some can trace their family name back generations.
As Manning points out, the history of Councell Farms in Cordova goes back 11 generations to Dennis Councell, who arrived here from England in the late 1600s.
The Gannon family has been living and farming in the area for five generations and still farm hundreds of acres along the Route 50 corridor.
“You can’t miss their farm north of Easton Airport,” he adds.
One of Bob’s most frequently depicted farms is on Hiners Lane just north of the Community Center on Route 50.
“I’ve sketched and painted it at least a dozen times,” he says. “It is so interesting the way the buildings sit on the hill and how the property drops dramatically behind the barn and sheds. When the evening light hits it is gorgeous; when it is captured by the early morning light — beautiful!”
Coming in a close second is the Schwanninger Farm south of Easton. “There is a lot of great old farm equipment to draw and paint here,” he said. “These are things that farmers have a lot of pride in and enjoy having them replicated through my art.”
Storage bins rule in Manning’s painting entitled Colossus in Trappe.
“I was amazed to learn that five of these bins were actually moved by helicopter from their original location over two miles away to where they are now, just north of the town of Trappe,” says Bob. “That was back in 1973.”
Known then as Trappe Landing Grain, owner Granville Wise sold the facility to Mountaire Farms Delaware in 1976.
One year later, operating as Mountaire Corporation, they began processing poultry on Delmarva. The facility would be sold to Wilmer and Joyce Hostetter in 1981 but repurchased by Mountaire from the Hostetters in 2007.
According to Bob, the Trappe bins are currently used primarily to store feed for Mountaire’s poultry facilities.
Their total capacity? A whopping 1.3 million bushels!
Mulberry Hill Farm signifies perhaps the biggest change Bob has witnessed during his time painting the rural landscape.
Purchased by Louis Plansoen in the early 1940s, this expansive farm occupied the property that is now home to various food chains, hospitality and commercial establishments along the Route 50 corridor at Chapel Road in Easton.
A handful of the barns remain and parcels of land continue to be harvested by local farmers.
“I feel fortunate to have been able to produce paintings of the many beautiful structures that made up Mulberry Hill,” says Bob. “What immediately stood out to me was the farm’s blue silo,” he recollects. “In fact, many of the buildings and barns that made up the farm had blue roofs!
“The story is that the roofs ended up being used as directional reference points for people heading through town.”
Another memorable part of the Mulberry Farm property is seen in Manning’s oil painting of the Louis Plansoen manor.
“I had the opportunity to paint the house before it was moved to Matthewstown Road just south of Black Dog Alley in 2010, a short distance from its original site,” Bob says. “It is now a private residence. Interestingly, the new owners followed suit by keeping the home’s distinctive ‘Mulberry blue’ roof.”
Although the passing of time has added more rust to the bins, wear and tear on the tractors, and many of the standing barns are now used for storage, the Eastern Shore’s rural landscape reveals an integral part of its history and culture.
And Manning said he will forever be inspired paint it.
(Editor’s note: Kathi Ferguson is a freelance writer with a diverse and creative professional background. Some of her favorite subjects are the people and culture of the Eastern Shore. A graduate of the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Kathi likes to spend her free time at the easel and especially enjoys portraiture. Visit www.inotherwords.info.)
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