Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Painted love: Fourth annual Bethesda Painting Awards

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Courtesy of Bethesda Urban Partnership
Paint of heart: Tom Green of Cabin John finished second at the fourth annual Bethesda Painting Awards for his ‘‘Pond.”
Shakespeare’s Duke Orsino seemed to believe that ‘‘music be the food of love.” Bethesda’s Carol Trawick, on the other hand, sees art as a far more potent elixir.

‘‘Art is the champagne – the necessary champagne – of life,” says the businesswoman-turned-benefactor. ‘‘It changes us ordinary folk, gives our lives a sparkle of excitement.”

Not that Trawick is any kind of poster child for ‘‘ordinary folk.” The teacher-turned CEO and her husband Jim founded their successful information technology company in 1985 and sold it over a year ago. But she is probably best known as a community activist and ardent arts supporter.

The Bethesda Painting Awards, established in 2005, are part of Trawick’s philosophy that art and commerce together make an ideal community.

‘‘I’ve been here in Bethesda for almost three decades,” says Trawick. ‘‘I fell in love with the community, and I’ve worked to create a balance here.”

Trawick has been a pioneer in Bethesda, chairing the Arts & Entertainment District and the Bethesda Urban Partnership, serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce, becoming the Rotary Club’s first female president and an integral part of the planning for Bethesda’s urban district. Her beloved ‘‘balance” — she trained in modern dance — is evident in the mix of artistic and commercial space to be found in the town today.

‘‘If you don’t have art, you don’t have soul,” she says firmly. ‘‘Once we had the basics in line, we were able to get the arts and entertainment legislation in place.”

Making the arts a priority is something Trawick sees not just as a personal preference, but as a marketing tool as well.

‘‘I want Bethesda to be known as a place that welcomes artists,” she says. ‘‘And a place that welcomes the public, too — and lets both groups get to know one another.”

One venue where artists and art lovers get to mingle is along the route of the Bethesda Art Walk: 12 open galleries featured on the second Friday of every month. This Friday’s event will feature the work of the 2008 Bethesda Painting Awards finalists, including North Potomac’s B.G. Muhn, who took the $10,000 first prize and Tom Green of Cabin John who placed second and received $2,000. Third-place and $1,000 went to Suzanna Fields of Richmond, while Amy Chan, also from Richmond, won the $1,000 Young Artist Award.

‘‘We wanted to recognize the artists,” Trawick says, ‘‘because artists work very, very hard. And my friends in the arts business who are knowledgeable about these things said, ‘It has to be a substantial prize.’”

More than 200 artists from Maryland, Virginia and the District entered the juried competition, which is limited to regional painters working in traditional media.

When she established The Trawick Prize in 2002, Trawick was hoping to flush out the best local contemporary artists.

‘‘I really believed that you don’t have to go Paris or New York,” she says. ‘‘The artists are among us – we needed to reach out.”

But she noticed that, the first two years, at least, prizewinners tended to be sculptors and artists working in new media.

‘‘I thought there must be a whole group working in traditional media,” she says – and she established the Bethesda Painting Awards to find them. The secret? Well, Trawick feels strongly that ‘‘art is in the eye of the beholder,” and she is scrupulous about objectivity.

‘‘We’re careful to change our judges every year so that the artists know: Next year there will be another set of judges, and another chance.”

A reception for The Bethesda Painting Awards will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, in conjunction with the Bethesda Art Walk, at the Fraser Gallery, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. The exhibit will be on view through July 5; the gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 301-215-6660 or visit