The Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay is world renowned for its food — the bounty of the catch from the waters and the richness and variety of produce that culminate in sumptuous restaurant and home dishes. But what truly separates Talbot County from its neighbors is another abundance: visual and performing arts.
For every crab, oyster or rockfish harvested around the towns of Talbot County there’s a painting, print, or musical memory. Artists and art lovers flock to studios, boutiques, museums and festivals, making the arts less of an amenity and more a way of life. As a result, Talbot County can easily claim the title, Arts Capital of the Eastern Shore.
Talbot County is “a place where creativity flourishes,” says Avalon Foundation President and CEO Al Bond. His words are true, as you can see for yourself — whether you visit with a paint brush, or camera, or just a credit card in hand.
Talk of the Town
Begin in Easton, the county seat, which contains a state-recognized, 110-acre arts and entertainment district. It is also home to the Eastern Shore’s largest arts organization, the Avalon Foundation, which produces more than 150 events each year, many of them involving roots music, in the century-old Avalon Theatre and at outdoor locations.
Among them is the Plein Air Easton Arts Festival and Competition, the nation’s largest and most prestigious outdoor painting competition. During the week-long festival, 58 juried painters from around the world compete for prizes and career-making accolades, and more than 175 artists participate in the two-hour Quick Draw competition. Judges for the festival have come from such august institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore.
Easton is home to Chesapeake Music, a classical and jazz presenter that produces an annual chamber music festival and sponsors the Biennial Chesapeake International Chamber Music Competition for Young Professionals, which carries a $10,000 top prize for an up-and-coming ensemble. In the fall, Easton hosts the Chesapeake Film Festival, which plays out in person and virtually, with slates of new and classic films available in theaters and online.
“Art is for Everyone” is the slogan of Easton’s Academy Art Museum, which is more active than the word “museum” may indicate. There’s the steady stream of visitors to its changing exhibitions of living artists and its superb permanent collection, which includes works on paper by Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, and Cassatt. And there are classes in painting, drawing, and yoga, as well as book discussions and other opportunities to see artists at work.
Easton’s Waterfowl Festival began as a way to entertain the legions sportsmen who flock to Talbot County and to showcase the best wildlife art. For more than 50 years, it has hosted the human squawkers and quackers of the World Waterfowl Calling Championship. It also grants the Waterfowl Heritage Art Awards to artists who combine accuracy with finesse in depicting waterfowl and their habitats.
Scenic St. Michaels
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels celebrates all things nautical in the form of ships, art, and objects. The museum is a town within a town, including five historic buildings, a bandshell and fog bell tower. More than 70,000 items — from watercraft to decoys — document the interaction of people and the Chesapeake Bay region over the course of two centuries. Like the Academy Art Museum, the Maritime Museum is a place where history continues, as you can watch shipbuilders at work and even apprentice for a day.
The St. Michaels Art League takes art to the streets, in the form of banners featuring pieces by local artists. The original art, posters and the banners themselves are offered for sale. And as if St. Michaels weren’t beautiful enough, St. Michaels in Bloom is an award-winning organization that plants 50,000 daffodils for the town’s annual Daffodil Festival, among other beautification projects.
On to Oxford
In the quaint community of Oxford, the petite Oxford Museum tells the story of local life, in part with an online gallery of historic images. A studio tour sponsored by the Oxford Community Center allows area artists to showcase their work. The Treasure Chest, an Oxford store, stocks regional art and decorative items, and holds classes in sign and furniture painting.
The Oxford Community Center’s annual three-day Fine Arts Show ushers in the busy summer season. The prestigious juried exhibit draws collectors from throughout the region and major Eastern Seaboard cities.
Tales of Tilghman
Tilghman Island also celebrates life on the water in the form of the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum, which is distinctive even before you walk in the door. It is in one of the quaint “W houses,” built more than a century ago and named for the shape of its floor plan. Inside are boat models and paintings of Tilghman Island scenes. Prints for sale by the late artist William E. Cummings depict watermen at work and play.
LEARN MORE about the arts in Talbot County.