Written By Susan Fair
Stepping into Sykesville artist Bruce Woodward’s home studio, you cannot help feeling that you are entering a kind of temple. In this sanctuary, candles flicker and soft music plays in the background. Solemn figures gaze down at you, adding to the reverential calm. But the figures are not statues of saints; they are fish, game birds, and a variety of horned animal skulls. The temple is devoted to nature through art.
Woodward pointed to the serious-looking pheasant mounted above his paint brushes.
“He was hit by a pickup truck in front of me and I stopped and picked him up,” he said.
Evidence of Woodward’s talent for capturing the beauty of local landscapes is everywhere in his neat, rustic home studio.
“All my paintings are of actual places,” he said, and with titles like “Moonrise over Westminster,” many of those places should be familiar to Carroll Countians.
Woodward majored in art at Towson State and holds a master’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art. His work has been exhibited everywhere from the National Wildlife Federation Headquarters in Virginia to the Carroll Community College Great Hall and he has won an assortment of awards over the years, including Maryland Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year.
Sandy Oxx, Carroll Arts Council president, has known Woodward for 10 years. She cautions that there is more to his comfortable landscapes than meets the eye:
“He has a gift for capturing the rural beauty of Carroll County using a magical combination of spot-on realism through an artist’s eye,” said Oxx.”
“Traditional, but never stuffy. When the subject matter is an aging barn or a rural landscape, many artists would create works that are very stereotypicalÉhis seem to transcend that predictable style.”
Woodward spent 37 years teaching art in Howard County high schools, but if you are expecting the cliched image of a bohemian high school art teacher, you will be disappointed. Rugged and low key, he is a man who seems most at home in a sportsman’s setting.
“I’m always looking for something to do outside,” he said.
Although he is not a hunter, trout fishing – a theme evident in his work – is his favorite pastime. As a matter of fact, he can be difficult to contact. He does not take a cell phone with him when he goes fishing, which he does often, at a favorite spot in Garrett County. It is there that he gets the inspiration for some of his paintings, although you will not catch him sitting by the stream with an easel.
“I take photographs and I do some sketches,” he said. But I’m too busy fishing to do much more. Lots of time I work from memory.”
Born 59 years ago and brought up on the outskirts of Baltimore City, Woodward did not find his painting skill and his passion for fishing converging until one long winter in the late Ô70s. “I was bored around the house.” he said. “I started painting in the winter months because I couldn’t fish.”
When one of his designs won first place in the annual Maryland Trout Stamp Competition. “ÉThat sort of got the ball rolling,” he said.
With his wife Sally, a fourth generation Carroll Countian who he met when they were both young teachers, he eventually moved to Sykesville, not far from Piney Run Park, into a house that he built by hand with the help of a friend.
“This property was a cornfield when we first moved here,” he said, gesturing to what is now a park-like setting, complete with fields, stream, and trails through the woods. In this idyllic area Woodward and his wife raised a daughter, Jenny, and a son, Brandon.
Today, with the children grown and gone, golden retrievers Rylie and Cooper add a playful note to the home and studio, where Woodward paints, starting at about 7:30 a.m., Monday through Friday.
Woodward works primarily in watercolor, but occasionally dabbles in acrylics. Influenced by Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth (“his watercolors especially”), Chet Rennison, Thomas Aquinas Daly and Frederick Church, he says his own work “has become a lot looser over the years, and more bold.”
Indicating one of his paintings, a landscape that seems to be simply field, trees and sky, he said, “Look closer.” At a distance in the painted sky, a flock of geese flies by, and other wildlife emerges along the hazy tree line.
Woodward’s appreciation of things most of us take for granted in our surroundings is one of the unique aspects of his art.
“People look at a winter scene and think it’s just cold and miserable,” he said, “But I think, ÔLook at that landscape, the colors, the lighting, the textures. The shadows will never be exactly the same again.’ That’s what I do. I try to capture that moment.”
Sally Woodward, of whom Bruce says, “I could not do what I’m doing without her support,” offers more insight into her husband’s art:
“He has an extraordinary appreciation of simpler times and hard work,” she said, “And through his field research and resulting artwork, he can celebrate these thingsÉHe has always been an avid fly fisherman, so the streams and rivers he frequents are of special interest to him. In his artwork, he can revisit and share some of the most rewarding times of his lifeÉ”
Woodward still teaches art several days a week at Howard Community College.
“I enjoy teaching people,” he said, and Sandy Oxx elaborates: “He is a gifted teacher and committed to inspiring young talent.”
But Woodward is not finished expanding his own artistic horizons, either. “I’m interested in getting even more serious,” he said. “I want to take it to another level. There’s something I want to bring to itÉ” His voice trailed off, but after a moment he continued in his quiet, thoughtful way.
“I want to bring a new perspective to the person looking at the painting. I want to enhance their life in some way.”