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Arts & Culture

“The Learner must be led always from familiar objects toward the unfamiliar, guided along, as it were, a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life.”
   –  Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Painter, Annapolis Resident

Visitors have been flooding Annapolis for decades to experience the architecture lining its colonial streets, the artwork found in its numerous art galleries and historic buildings, and the many monuments that enrich the city. You’ll find everything from 17th-century cannons and important historic American figures cast in bronze memorials to contemporary art in galleries to murals painted on buildings and walls. It’s as though the city was built as an extensive, outdoor gallery—or, as Historic Annapolis designated it over fifty years ago, as “a museum without walls.”

In addition to long-standing works by noted artists such as Charles Willson Peale, Francis Blackwell Mayer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and William H. Rinehart, contemporary local and regional artists showcase their work in Annapolis’ many galleries or across the city as muralists and sculptors spurred on by the Art in Public Places Commission. Works of art in some of the city’s most prominent landmarks, like the Maryland State House, the USNA Museum, St. John’s College, and the “golden age” homes of Annapolis’ most noted early inhabitants, are sure to please any art lover. Once you’ve visited, it’s easy to see why Annapolis was named one of the nation’s Top 25 Arts Destinations in American Style magazine’s 12th annual Arts Destination Poll.

Monuments

Annapolis has a plethora of monuments scattered throughout the city. Monuments in the Yard (grounds) at the United States Naval Academy include the Tripoli Monument honoring those killed in 1804 during the first Barbary War (1801-1805); the Macedonian Monument honoring the victory of the USS United States over the HMS Macedonian in the War of 1812; the Midshipmen’s Monument that honors Naval Academy alumni who lost their lives during the Mexican War in 1846 and 1847; the figurehead of Tecumseh (chief of the Delaware Indians from 1628-1698) cast from the wooden figurehead of the USS Delaware; and the Herndon Monument, a memorial to Captain William Lewis Herndon of the SS Central America who chose to go down with his ship and his men in 1857 when the vessel foundered in a severe storm. The Naval Academy is open to the public all year; visitors can join a guided tour or stroll the Yard at their own pace. A valid government-issued ID is required for admittance for anyone 21 years and older; anyone younger than 21, without a valid ID, must be accompanied by an adult with a valid ID.

Chartered in 1784, St. John’s College is as historic as it is architecturally beautiful, with a number of notable monuments dotting its campus. The French Monument, secluded at the back of the campus near the College Creek boathouse, marks the graves of French soldiers and sailors who died in the Revolutionary War. It was dedicated in 1911 by President Taft and French Ambassador Jean J. Jusserand and is among the first monuments in this country to honor unknown war dead. The Alumni Memorial Tablet, just inside the grounds on College Avenue in front of McDowell Hall, pays tribute to St. John’s students who served in World War I. The figure on the Art Deco-style tablet depicts the alma mater mourning the 24 alumni, whose names are inscribed on the shield, who gave their lives in that conflict. Nearby, the Liberty Bell replica is one of 48 cast in 1950 to promote the nationwide sale of defense bonds. These and many other monuments can be found spread throughout the city.

Sculptures

With over 350 years of history, it’s easy to see why Annapolis has so many statues dedicated to important historic figures and events that shaped the history of America. Again, the United States Naval Academy has a number of sculptures honoring influential members of this elite institution, such Lt. General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps; Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence and James B. Stockdale, prisoners of war during the Vietnam conflict; and the Submarine Service Centennial monument dedicated to those lost at sea. The doors of the USNA Chapel are another example of the Academy’s grandeur. Standing twenty-two feet tall and ten feet wide, the bronze doors are an allegorical sculpture symbolizing war and peace, the work of Evelyn Longman, winner of an open design competition. And definitely not least, a bronze sculpture near Gate 1 honors Bill, The Goat, USNA’s mascot since 1890.

The Maryland State House offers more sculptures for art lovers visiting Annapolis. Facing Francis Street in front of the original 18th-century portion of the building, you’ll find a statue of Roger Brooke Taney, native Marylander and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, most well-known for casting the decisive vote in the Dred Scott decision. The Thurgood Marshall statue on Lawyers’ Mall is dedicated to the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court, with related sculptures commemorating his most notable civil rights victories. Other subjects include the Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley statue dedicated to the Spanish-American War hero, and statues of John Hanson and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, smaller replicas of the bronze statues in the U.S. Capitol Building.  Another statue on the State House grounds, outside the west wall, honors Johann de Kalb.  A major general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, De Kalb, wounded at the Battle of Camden, was the only Continental Army general to die on the battlefield. The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial at City Dock overlooks the Annapolis harbor. The statue illustrates Haley (author of Roots) reading his novel, relating the arrival of his ancestor Kunta Kinte on the Lord Lingonier in 1767, to a group of children.

Murals

Murals comprise a distinctive part of Annapolis’ art and culture experience. Ranging from large, historic paintings to modern art masterpieces decorating entire buildings, Annapolis has a bit of everything. The United States Naval Academy wall on King George Street features a painting of John Paul Jones’s ship, Ranger, during battle, while a wall in the Council Chamber in City Hall displays a massive painting commemorating the 300th anniversary of the move of the capital from St. Mary’s City. The scene is intended to depict a public reading of the city’s 1708 charter. “Street Art” murals are also noticeable throughout the city; whether they adorn the front entrance of a restaurant or decorate a neighborhood street corner, you’ll be surrounded by murals in Annapolis. There’s the 1960s era photo of Annapolis’ Farmers Market at City Dock Park, the Wings and Sails mural next to the walkway behind City Hall, award-winning photographer Marion Warren’s blown-up images of Annapolis’ early days on the walls of a West Street parking lot, and many others all across the city.

Museums

Annapolis has a number of museums in town offering history lessons ranging from watermen’s culture and the Chesapeake Bay to colonial architecture and 18th-century life. At the world-class United States Naval Academy Museum, two floors devoted to the Navy’s past give visitors an extensive history lesson. Bringing in over 100,000 people a year, the museum offers exhibits about the history of sea power, the U.S. Navy’s development and accomplishments, and the role the USNA has played in making the Navy what it is today. Located on the 2nd deck (second floor) of the museum, the Class of 1951 Gallery of Ships houses one of the world’s finest collections of warship models from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

The Chase-Lloyd House (1769), Hammond-Harwood House (1774), William Paca House and Garden (1765), and Charles Carroll House (mid-18thth century) are all superlative examples of the city’s colonial architecture as well as museums open to the public. All but the Carroll House display collections of period furniture and decorative arts, including paintings by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) and furniture by John Shaw (1745-1829).

The Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery is a hidden treasure in historic Annapolis. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2012 and dedicated since it opened in 1989 to bringing world-renowned art to Annapolis, the Mitchell Gallery’s modern design won a Citation of Merit from the American Institute of Architects. It attracts over 10,000 visitors a year to its exhibits which are of an unusual range and diversity for a gallery of its size. Exhibitions have included works of celebrated artists such as Bruegel, Calder, Rembrandt, Rodin, Motherwell, and Johns; exhibitions of unique historical and regional interest, such as photography by A. Aubrey Bodine and Marion Warren; and the National Craft Show. Interpretive programs include lectures, gallery talks, docent tours, and children’s programs.

Named after Marylanders Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, the Banneker-Douglass Museum highlights the innovations, resilience, and achievements of African American Marylanders, including Matthew Henson, the first African American to explore the Arctic, who accompanied Robert Peary and was the first man to reach the North Pole; and Herbert Milton Frisby, a Maryland-born soldier stationed in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska during WWII, who made two Artic excursions in the summers of 1943 and 1944, one to Hudson Bay and the other beyond the Arctic Circle to Kotzebue, Alaska. Once an African Methodist Episcopal Church, the museum now showcases Maryland history in rotating exhibits, offering visitors a different lesson each time they enter.

The Annapolis Maritime Museum is a small museum at the mouth of Back Creek in Eastport, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and housed in what was the last oyster-packing plant in Annapolis. The museum engages visitors in an interactive experience that highlights the oyster and its role in shaping both the history and the maritime culture of Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay as a whole. The historic McNasby building is the ideal setting for meaningful waterfront education experiences, maritime seminars, concerts, and other programs and events. It frequently hosts art exhibits to highlight local artists who focus their work on the Chesapeake Bay and those that work its waters.

Experience the Area

With the support of our local partners and associations, Four Rivers is dedicated to preserving the attractions, locations, and stories that portray art and culture in the area. If you are interested in experiencing the area’s rich art and culture for yourself, you can plan a visit to one of our partner sites, look into a local tour, attend a local seminar or lecture series, or join us for one of many monthly events in the region.

If you’re looking for a peek into the thriving arts and culture here in Annapolis, there’s no shortage in Anne Arundel County and the Four Rivers Heritage Area. Click here to discover all our attractions surrounding art and culture in the Four Rivers Heritage Area.

ARTS & CULTURE ATTRACTIONS