THE VIEW from Ellicott City
June 1, 2007

By Shannon Baylis Sarino

Local artist honored

Ralph Baney wins Howie, prestigious commission

It's been an exciting spring for Ralph Baney. Not only was the Ellicott City artist honored with the Howie for Outstanding Artist in April, but he was also commissioned to create a sculpture for Nobel laureate VS. Naipaul.

Baney and his wife, Vera, have been members of the Howard County Arts Council for many years, he said.
They moved to the county 17 years ago, when he was working at Dundalk Community College. After living in Arbutus for 13 years, they settled in Ellicott City.

"We had a young child, and we moved to Howard County for the best education opportunities," he said. "When we bought land, there were no other houses around us. All that changed...it was so quiet and peaceful here, and we didn't think it would change so fast."

Baney is retired these days, but he's not resting on his laurels. He built a studio near his house recently, so he can split his time between caring for his wife, who lost the use of the left side of her body following a stroke, and working on his sculptures.

His studio more closely resembles a woodworking shop, filled with tree trunks he first carves with a chainsaw before finishing the pieces with smaller chiseling tools. His new work is much different than the pieces he's done before, he said. And different than the piece he created on commission from the University of West Indies.

Ralph Baney poses with the sculptureBaney was commissioned by the university to create a sculpture in wood to present to Naipaul as a gift for his 75th birthday, he said.

Naipaul, a Trinidad native like Baney, was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature. Naipaul mainly writes novels and short stories, many of which are set in the West Indies. In 1990, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Baney said when creating the sculpture, he moved from the very literal to a more abstract depiction of how he saw Naipaul's life and work. When it was finished, he took the piece to Trinidad and presented it to Naipaul during the birthday celebration.

"It was a series of events to celebrate his birthday," Baney said. "They asked me to do the sculpture and then bring it down. It was presented on (April) 18th, and on the 20th I left to come home for the awards presentation. When I looked at both the com­mission and the award, I thought 'it doesn't get any better than this."

On April 21, he was honored by the arts council with the 2007 Outstanding Artist award, and the county's 10th celebration of the arts. Although his last major show was in Trinidad in 2004, Baney said he did participate several times in the annual county arts exhibition.

"It's not easy to come up with new work each year for a show," he said.

"I used to exhibit more...now I work until it's done, without the pressing need to sell work."

During his career, which spans more than 50 years, he has had 12 one-person shows, as well as participating in several group shows. He has been commissioned to do pieces that include an 8-foot by 10-foot sculpture of the national coat of arms for Trinidad and Tobago, and Queen Elizabeth II owns one of his sculptures in her private collection.And as he looks back at a long career in the arts, he said he counts his two recent honors among the ones he is most proud of.

"It's nice to know I was recognized in the county," he said. "Home is the last place where you are usually recognized, and it felt really good. You feel a lift when you are honored like this — it lets you know somebody has noticed your work."


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