Allen Abend documents Baltimore’s art history

Allen Abend
Allen Abend (Courtesy of Allen Abend)

By Bob Jacobson

Allen Abend’s passion for art and art history has led him to start his own business and to writing several books.

A retired architect, Abend, 76, spent his career in the planning, design and construction of educational buildings. He started as assistant to the director of facilities at Teachers College Columbia University. In 1972, Abend became staff architect of the School Facilities Office at the Maryland State Department of Education, later becoming director. He then became deputy director of the Maryland Public School Construction program.

Two years before retiring in 2007 from a 38-year career, the Pikesville resident started Abend Fine Art, selling paintings, watercolors, prints and antique maps. Three years into that 14-year venture, Abend was inspired to write about Baltimore art history. Over the next decade, he would go on to publish four books.

The first of those books was about Gabrielle DeVeaux Clements, one of the artists whose work Abend sold. Clements, who lived from 1858-1948 and spent part of her life in Baltimore, specialized in painting landscapes, cityscapes and harbor vistas. Abend spent two years researching her, then self-published the book, “Gabrielle DeVeaux Clements: etcher, painter, muralist, teacher” in 2012.

More wheels started turning.

“I wondered, were there other late 19th- and early 20th-century women in Baltimore who were successful, talented artists?” Abend said.

His research led him to 16 artists who were “forgotten because they were women,” Abend said.

“Many were single or had late marriages,” Abend explained. “They were largely forgotten because art history has been primarily about men.”

After spending another few years researching, Abend published another book, “Baltimore’s Forgotten Women: Painters and Printmakers of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century.”

During his research, Abend kept reading about the art collection of the Peabody Institute. Philanthropist George Peabody founded the institute in 1857 as one of the first major intellectual and art centers in an American city, over half a century before either the Walters Art Museum or Baltimore Museum of Art was founded. Abend was inspired; he started on to his next topic.

Abend calls George Peabody “a mensch who used most of his wealth for great purposes.”

Peabody endowed the institute named for him just before the Civil War. Abend explained that the Peabody Institute was the major cultural hub of Baltimore, with a massive library, lecture series, art gallery and music conservatory. Abend said that the Peabody Institute art collection still exists but since 1996 has been owned by the state of Maryland. The collection was mismanaged by the financially strapped institute, with some unfortunate sales. One painting, Rembrandt Peale’s iconic portrait of Thomas Jefferson, was sold and is now in the White House.

In another book, “Maryland’s Treasure and Burden: Baltimore’s Peabody Institute’s Art Collection,” Abend tells the story of the institute’s art collection.

Abend’s most recent book, “The Charcoal Club of Baltimore: 138 Years of Mastery and Merriment” was published this year. Abend said that the Charcoal Club, an 138-year-old artist association, also kept coming up in his research.

Abend described the club as “a very serious association with a social side.”

“Its art school was very respected in the mid-Atlantic region,” Abend said. “Their annual Bal Des Arts was a costume party, with dinner and dancing into the wee hours. They had the best annual exhibition of American contemporary art.”

The club started admitting women members on an equal basis in 1990.

Asked about the motivation behind his writing, Abend said, “I’m one of those people who enjoys sitting in a library, putting the pieces of a puzzle together for a story that hasn’t been told.”

Bob Jacobson is a freelance writer.

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