- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Stacey Hann-Ruff, director of Annmarie Garden near Solomons, Md., points up at the canopy of loblolly pines over the paved path that winds through the wooded 30-acre garden on St. John’sCreek.

“This is where the giant wind chime will go,” she says. “We’ll use bright red roping and string it from tree to tree, so it looks like a giant spider web. … We have serious art here — but it’s not pretentious. We try to make art accessible.”

At Annmarie Garden, participatory art such as the child-created wind chime stand side by side with works by world-class sculptors from Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum. On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16-17, the garden’s paths will be lined with the works of more than 150 artists and artisans who have competed for space in the garden’s Artsfest ‘06.

Children’s activities, music and other entertainment, along with food and drink vendors, will add to the festivities — just one of the reasons to spend a September weekend in and around Solomons, where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay and where summer is slow to say goodbye.

In addition to Artsfest ‘06, a September weekend here might include a visit to a vineyard, a stroll along the river, a bike tour of historic Solomons, a hunt for the fossilized remains of prehistoric sharks and whales, and a look at what scientists are doing to save the Chesapeake and its oysters.

Visitors could also chill out and enjoy the kitschy pseudo-Polynesian ambience at the popular outdoor Tiki Bar, swim in the still-warm Chesapeake at Flag Ponds Nature Park, kayak through the “forest of masts” in Solomons’ Back Creek or rent a faster vessel, with water skis.

It’s all only about an hour and a half from Washington, but if you want to stay for more than a day, you can rent a rustic cabin in a former children’s camp on a wooded cliff above the Bay, or stay in the century-old former home of a world-class yacht builder in the heart of Solomons.

And although the artists of Artsfest ‘06 will take down their paintings and fold their tents on Sept. 17, Annmarie Garden blooms with notable — and accessible — art seven days a week all year-round.

One of the most accessible pieces, “A Surveyor’s Map,” literally invites visitors to climb aboard, up a ramp, along a boardwalk and into a treehouse with a view of the creek.

“Kids can even ride tricycles on this,” Ms. Hann-Ruff says. “The artists likened it to a life of memories. Just as a map has benchmarks, in a person’s life memories are what ground you. The artists interviewed local residents and wrote quotes from the interviews on the boardwalk. The inscriptions are fading with the footprints as people walk on them, just as memories fade.”

Pam Ghattas, who is walking her sheltie, Jack, along the newest path in the garden, the Women’s Walk, says she identifies with all five of the varied women depicted.

“I love the ‘Girl With Braids,’” she says, pointing to a bronze statue by Berlin-born Gerhard Marcks, on loan from the Hirshhorn. “She’s tall, she’s athletic, she’s bold and strong. Then you come down the lane and see the Mexican woman, [‘Seated Woman,’ by Francisco Zuniga] and I think, ‘She’s tired. She’s been washing clothes all day in the river.’ All the expressions are here — you feel you?re not alone.”

Continuing the tour, Ms. Hann-Ruff leads a visitor across a grassy expanse to “Marseille,” a square bronze sail by Cesar, who was born in Marseille in 1921.

“This is one of the first pieces we got from the Hirshhorn, and it’s a nice piece to have here on the Bay,” she says. “Cesar was from a coastal town — like Solomons is a coastal town. He made molds of the seashells and put them in it. We always show this to kids and ask, ‘If you could make a sculpture of your hometown, what would you make?’”

One facet of a sculpture of — or a visit to — Solomons might be a vineyard, such as the one found about half a mile from the gardens at the boutique Solomons Island Winery, which will be serving samples of its wares at Artsfest.

“Originally, this was my dad’s hobby,” says winery manager Melissa Korando, leading a visitor past the rows of fledgling vines of syrah grapes on a hillside above Hungerford Creek. “He got lots of compliments on his wine and said, ‘Maybe we can do this as a business.’”

The first year, 2004, the business produced 300 cases of wine. The 2005 tally was 3,500 cases, and this year the winery is aiming for 5,000 cases. The Korandos hope to eventually produce wine from their own grapes, but currently they buy grapes from other places.

“To get a usable crop can take up to three years,” she explains, continuing the tour in the basement of the live-in winery. “We carry the crushed grapes down the stairs to the basement to ferment. After four months, we taste each barrel of wine every week.”

Back upstairs, in the tasting room, visitors can sample chardonnay, a white merlot, sauvignon blanc, a Riesling ice wine and marytage — a red Bordeaux-style wine. There are also “mist wines.”

“We take grapes and ferment them then add a fruit concentrate,” Ms. Korando says. “We have a black raspberry merlot that tastes like sangria.”

Wine and art are relatively new additions to the Solomons story. The town’s major motif — ever since 1865 when Isaac Solomon bought an 80-acre tract known as Sandy Island and built a canning factory here — has been the oyster. Other entrepreneurs followed in Solomon’s wake, and soon, watermen were pulling up their daily limit of 40 bushels of the delectable bivalves and selling them to the canneries, where they were shucked and packed and shipped to Baltimore and beyond.

Thanks to the oyster trade, the town thrived and a mini-building boom began, which accelerated after a bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland. The bridge is now a causeway, and most visitors cross it unaware that they are leaving the mainland.

Pollution, disease and overharvesting have consigned Solomons’ commercial oyster industry to the history books, and the canneries have disappeared — except for the J.C. Lore & Sons Oyster House, which still sits on Back Creek along Solomons Island Road. The old cannery is now part of the Calvert Marine Museum and gives visitors a peek into the now-defunct oyster industry.

Visitors can also book a cruise on the museum’s authentic oyster “buy boat,” the Wm. B. Tennison. And a short walk along the very pleasant boardwalk known as the Riverwalk — with maybe a stop for ice cream at Cone Island or a meal at the Solomons Pier restaurant — leads to the home of the town’s original oyster entrepreneur.

“Isaac Solomon moved into this house in 1865, though it dates from 1780,” says Kelly Gofus, a docent at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, which sits on the very tip of the island and looks out on the entry to the Bay. The Solomon house now serves as the visitor center for the lab, a state-supported marine research laboratory dedicated to saving the Bay and its denizens, including the oysters, which, Ms. Gofus laments, “are not doing well.”

Attempts to seed the Bay and the Patuxent with disease-resistant oysters have met with limited success, but Solomons is thriving once more — thanks largely to the town’s other historic industry, boating.

The oyster industry needed work boats and people to built and repair them, and Marcellus M. Davis opened a shipyard in 1885 and a marine railway seven years later. As the oyster industry declined, the Davis family switched to building racing yachts for the du Ponts and other wealthy families. Some of the Davis-built boats are on view at the Calvert Marine Museum.

Although you can’t set sail on the Manitou or the Flying Cloud or other legendary craft built in Solomons, you can check into the home of the former owner of the M.M. Davis & Son Shipyard — now the Solomons Victorian Inn. And you can captain your own “yacht” in Solomons waters.

“People more or less self-certify that they know what they’re doing,” says William Stewart, who, assisted by his 1-year-old Labrador retriever, Ella, rents boats from a booth along the Riverwalk. “We don’t like to use the word ‘instruction,’ but we go over the boat with them thoroughly and show them the safety equipment.”

Mr. Stewart rents pontoon boats and “Bow Riders,” with water skis and tubes available at an extra charge.

For an even more intimate experience of the water, you might want to rent a kayak.

“We give you some instruction and launch you on Back Creek,” says Dave Lane, owner of Patuxent Adventure Center. “It’s great kayaking past all the marinas there, and in Back Creek, the motorized boats have a 5-mph speed limit.”

Try not to paddle faster than that as you wave a slow goodbye to summer in Solomons.

Places to go:

Artsfest ‘06 takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 16-17 at Annmarie Garden, 13480 Dowell Road. For more information and directions, go to www.annmariegarden.org or call 410/326-4640. Admission is $5 for the general public. Children can attend for free. At other times, admission to the gardens is free.

Solomons Island Winery, 515 Garner Lane, Lusby, is open for free tours and tastings daily except Monday, but visitors are asked to call ahead: 410/394-1933. During Artsfest ‘06, the wine may be sampled at Annmarie Gardens, but the winery itself will be closed. For more information, go to www.solomonsisland winery.com.

The Calvert Marine Museum, 14200 Solomons Island Road, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum includes an otter tank, a recreated salt marsh, boats and model boats, fossils, historical artifacts and two lighthouses. Visitors can also take a one-hour cruise around Solomons in the museum?s log-hulled oyster buyboat, the Wm. B. Tennison. The museum bookstore has excellent publications about the area, including “Solomons Island & Vicinity, An Illustrated History and Walking Tour.” For more information, go to www.calvertmarinemuseum.com or call 410/326-2042.

The Chesapeake Biological Lab Visitor Center, on Williams Street near Solomons’ southern tip, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lab tours are conducted Wednesdays and Fridays at 2 p.m. For more information, go to www.cbl.umces.edu or call 410/326-7443.

Solomons Boat Rentals, Riverwalk near A Street. For rates and reservations, go to www.solomonsboatrental.com or call 410/326-4060.

Patuxent Adventure Center, 13860 C Solomons Island Road, rents kayaks and bicycles. For more information, go to www.paxadventure.com or call 410/394-2770.

Flag Ponds Nature Park is eight miles north of Solomons, off Maryland Route 4. It has hiking trails and a beach for swimming (unguarded) and for fossil hunting. After Labor Day, it’s open weekends only, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until the last weekend in October (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. after October). There is a per-car admission charge. For more information, go to www.calvertparks .org or call 410/535-5327.

Accommodations

Solomons Victorian Inn, 125 Charles St., 410/326-4811 or www.solomonsvictorianinn.com.

Matoaka Beach Cabins, 4510 Matoaka Lane, St. Leonard, 410/586-0269.

For other options, and for a list of restaurants, go to www.sba.solomons.md.us.

Directions:

To get to Solomons, take Beltway Exit 11A and continue south on Maryland Route 4 to the exit for Solomons.

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