An art exhibit that opened this month featuring two artists from St. Mary’s County aims to disentangle nature from nurture.
Art, an intrinsically creative process, can also be molded by one’s experiences, whether through formal training or looking out a window over a maritime landscape.
Father and daughter Peter and Lisa Egeli will for the first time showcase their maritime landscapes together at a Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts gallery in Annapolis.
“We each put in about 25 paintings,” including small sketches done on location and large studio pieces, said Lisa, who grew up in St. Mary’s and now lives in Churchton.
Art is deeply rooted in the Egeli family.
Bjorn Egeli, Peter’s father, left Norway at age 15 to work with that country’s merchant marine. He eventually landed in America, started his painting career in earnest, and “became the darling of the Washington art set,” Peter said.
“My father was a true professional. He painted portraits all over the country,” said Peter, who lives in Drayden in a home overlooking the St. Mary’s River.
Those portraits included military leaders, Supreme Court justices, U.S. presidents and other well-known people, he said.
Bjorn and Lois Egeli bought a farm in Valley Lee in 1942, in part to work toward being self-sufficient during wartime. In St. Mary’s, Bjorn was able to continue with one of his other passions, boat building.
It was from that Valley Lee home that Peter’s love of art blossomed.
His four siblings — Cedric Baldwin Egeli, Bjorn James Egeli, Mary Lois Ekroos and Carolyn Christine Egeli — all also became successful artists.
Carolyn lives in a house she built in 1975 on her family’s homestead in Valley Lee. Her painting career has spanned some 45 years, she said, and her three children are artists or musicians themselves.
“My dad always said, ‘Talent is aroused interest,’” Carolyn said. “It was a way of life for us” growing up looking out over Herring Creek, she said.
Eleven members of the Egeli family exhibited their artwork in a Baltimore gallery in 1985, a show that earned national acclaim.
This is the first show in more than three decades of this type for Peter, he said, and the very first that his work will be alongside his daughter’s paintings.
“She has a different hand than I have,” Peter said. “I think that Lisa is one of the premier landscape artists in the country now.”
Lisa primarily studied illustrations, while her father was more classically trained, he said. His daughter’s “niftiness of hand” shows prominently in her work, he said.
“I don’t think that I pushed [his children] in either direction,” Peter said. “It was like my own upbringing, that I was so exposed to it I couldn’t help but get involved in it.”
With one year of art school under his belt, Peter was headed to the regular Army through the U.S. military draft when an officer in the Marine Corps, who had his portrait painted by Peter’s father, offered him a spot with that branch of the service.
Peter served three years during the 1950s with the Marine Corps, where he said he put his talent to use teaching drawing and painting to officers who developed military training and field guides.
After his stint in the military, Peter continued his studies at the Maryland Institute for the Art and George Washington University. He eventually returned to St. Mary’s County, where he landed a professorship at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
He taught drawing and painting for seven years at the college until he decided to try to make a living on his own as an artist.
“At first, it was like jumping into cold water,” he said.
He and his wife, Stu Egeli, (who is also an artist), struggled to make ends meet for a time. Soon, though, Peter’s work began getting noticed.
He, too, did portraits for the well-to-do and well-known in the region.
Still, when asked what he is best known for, Peter said, “It depends on which camp my foot is in.”
In addition to his portraiture, he has continued with another passion throughout the years — painting marine landscapes. It is those works that will hang at the gallery show alongside those of his daughter.
Peter helped found the American Society of Marine Artists in 1978.
Over the years, Peter said drew inspiration from areas in Southern Maryland, including Allen’s Fresh in Charles County and the head of St. Clement’s Bay, which used to be visible from the Clements crossroads of routes 242 and 234.
“It looked like an English countryside,” he said.
Peter traveled around St. Mary’s making a series of sketches. He documented old log canoes. “They’re shapes are exquisite,” he said.
He also did a series of pen-and-ink drawings of old barns in St. Mary’s.
Peter’s love of history and maritime activities came together when he designed and build some of the exhibits at Historic St. Mary’s City, including a large cross-section of the Maryland Dove he built in the 1970s.
Lisa said that stylistically, she puts more emphasis on plein-air painting when compared to her father. But there are not dramatic differences in their marine landscapes, and it could be hard to tell them apart without a discerning eye, she said.
Lisa said she tries to divide her time equally between painting landscapes and doing portrait work on commission.
Like her father, she has painted scenes along St. Mary’s River and other marine locals in the county. She also travels extensively, and the show will include some works done in Europe.
So, did nature or nurture have a larger influence on the art of the Egelis?
“It’s really hard for me to separate the two, because in my own life they’ve been completely enmeshed,” Lisa said. “I really view it as a mix of both.”
She admits she did have a leg up thanks to growing up with a father who was a well-regarded painter and being around quality art and the creative process since she was born. But, based on the quality of work and successes of so many of her family members, nature must have something to do with it.
“For years I used to think it was strictly environment,” including what a person was exposed to and how they were trained, Peter said.
That was until 1992, when he traveled to his ancestral country of Norway and met some of his cousins, who were also artists. They had many common interests, he said, and drew in a similar manner.
“So, when I came away, I thought, ‘Well, there is some kind of infusion or instinct there,’” Peter said.