Fields and Farmyards, Pastel Works by Mary Pritchard, on View through November 26 at Adkins Arboretum


For anyone who has spent time on the Eastern Shore, Mary Pritchard’s award-winning pastel landscapes will have a compelling familiarity. Full of dramatic light and shadow and bold color, her drawings show fields changing with the seasons and intimate views of farmyards with wide vistas revealed through the open windows and doors of barns and sheds.

Pritchard’s rural landscapes of the Eastern Shore are clear, precise and full of promise. They are on view at the Adkins Arboretum Visitor's Center through Nov. 26. There will be a reception to meet the artist and hear her speak about her work on Sat., Oct. 16 from 3 to 5 p.m.

If it weren’t for the rural settings and their intense colors (deep reds and glowing blues and greens predominate), you might almost think you were looking at stills from film noir. But while these landscapes suggest stories, they are not ominous. They draw you in and make you want to know more about each place.

A beam of sunlight slices across the deep shadow in the opening under a roof connecting a shed and a barn in “Looking through to Pink.” Just large enough for a tractor to drive through, the opening frames an inviting landscape of fields and distant woods. You see instantly that the sunlight is moving across a living landscape.

Pritchard has worked this scene with rich layers of color. The clean geometry of the buildings is set off in luminous blue over purple and rusty brown, as light glances off the side of the barn and the ridges in the metal roof.

Pritchard usually starts her drawings on burgundy or deep red paper. “You can use it as a foil to blues and greens,” she explained. “I like the transparent sense when you see through the strokes of pastel. When you get the lights very opaque, they leap off the page.”

Although she draws landscapes from Nova Scotia to California, Pritchard finds her favorite subjects on the Eastern Shore. She fell in love with this area at an early age. Before her family moved to Baltimore when she was eight, she lived in Ridgely, not far from the Arboretum. She took her first art lessons in nearby Denton.

Pritchard always brings her pastels along when she travels. Although she draws on farms owned by friends, returning again and again to work with their barns, outbuildings and fields from many different angles, she often is struck by landscapes she sees when she is driving and will stop to ask for permission to visit farms where she would like to draw. She is delighted when she’s given access.

“I’m like a kid in a candy shop,” she said.

In the tradition of plein air painting, Pritchard often draws outdoors and participates in plein air festivals around the area.

“I do both—I take photos and work on location,” she said. “Pastel is a very easy medium for plein air.”

Pritchard earned a B.A. in studio art from Mount Holyoke College and went on to earn master’s degrees in art and journalism. She worked as a corporate art consultant and as an educational administrator at the University of Delaware. After moving to Chestertown in 1993 and commuting to the university for several years, she turned to art full-time.

It was only then that she started to work in pastel. “My mother had left me her pastels. I took literally a three-hour class and it just clicked. It was like turning on a light bulb.”

She now teaches pastel at her Chestertown studio and at Easton Studio and School and shows her work in several Eastern Shore galleries.

Pritchard loves the spontaneity and physicality of this medium. “There’s no brush. There’s nothing between you and the paper. You just go at it,” she said. “By the time I’m finished, I have it all over my hands, my face, my clothes. Fortunately, it washes out.”

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists, sponsored in part by Caroline County Council of Arts. It is on view through November 26 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or for gallery hours.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.