DELMARVA ALMANAC

Mark Reeve

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Mark Reeve is a realist painter who is doing a series about Century Farms in Delaware. His goal is to connect with his audience beyond simply adding beauty to their lives.

Art for him has always been a communication device, particularly when he was younger. It was a way to share his ideas and to socialize. Now he hopes to connect his art with economic and social concerns. He says that art can and should be more than mere decoration. It should connect with people where they are, with their needs and objectives.

After art school Mark found himself working in other fields thinking he would not be able to make a living as an artist. His day job is working for a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find jobs. He likes this work but regrets not focusing sooner on his art. Mark is making up for lost time with projects like the series he is working on now: Delaware century farm portraits.

The Century Farm portrait project grew out of his desire to connect with the economic and community values of Delaware. He has been a landscape painter there for eighteen years. He approached Secretary of Agriculture, Edwin Key, with his idea to do these farm portraits in 2103. He recognized the potential for art communicate and that the project was different than any done before. They looked through a roster of about 130 eligible farms, those that which have been owned by the same family for more than one hundred years. They narrowed it down to some of the oldest and most significant farms including the Hickory Hill Demonstration farm.

The result is ten paintings that will be owned by the Department of Agricutlure and will be exhibited at The Delaware Agricultural Village and Museum from May 1 through June 30, 2015, with a special reception there May 14th to highlight some of the programs of the Department of Agriculture.

Mark videotaped his interviews with his subjects. This material will be used later in a documentary. Because the project involved completing a large body of work in a short period of time Mark learned how to be more efficient with his time and rediscovered his interest in portraiture and how it helps people to tell their story.

Mark had not focused on portraits for a long time. This project required that he resurrect and improve those skills. He says that painted portraiture is about interpreting life in a way that is "more meaningful" than ordinary photography can achieve.

Mark said it was very interesting talking to the owners of these farms. He also learned a lot about what it took for farm families to maintain their farms and about the history of Delaware. He came to appreciate how they were able to innovate as businesses in order to survive. He also said it was interesting to learn how fundamental some of the farms were to the history of Delaware, such as Cooches Bridge, the site of the only Revolutionary War battle in Delaware. Mark said that these farms were a part of the fabric of Delaware and its development.

One portrait shows Bea Whitehead's farm Fairview Farm in Lincoln, Delaware. It was the home of Robert Houston one of the states founding fathers.

You are listening to the Delmarva Almanac. This is Dana Kester-McCabe and we are talking to Mark Reeve a Delaware artist working on a series about century farms.

Bea Whitehead is shown in her painting as a stately woman with short grey hair in a blue cardigan sweater, standing before the tree lined dirt lane leading to her farm on a sunny day. She holds a hand crafted basket and smiles confidently at the painting's audience.

Mark says that it was a wonder full experience working with Bea who makes her own baskets. He said she was the first in the series and he really connected with her. This helped set the pace for the works that followed.

Mark describes his work as realist but still painterly. He still looks for the abstract shapes that help a composition. He says this is what helps keep the paintings as more than simply pictures of people in front of farms, but works of art.

It also happens that he and Bea are both members of the Mispillion Art League in Milford. Mark has high praise for the way the community has embraced the arts there. Mark says that organizations like the art league are really important and he hopes people will support them.

References:


Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village

Mispillion Art League

Delaware businesses help celebrate First State agriculture with special art project.