Every now and then our explorations take us places that are extraordinary. Destinations that have me asking myself how in the world it took me so long to hear about them, let alone visit. Spots that engage and enchant and make us want stay as long as we possibly can, and have me planning a return trip before we even leave.
Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Art Center is one of those very places. A few weeks ago, my friend Jody texted me a link, asking if I knew of a park she heard was amazing. I clicked through to read about a “magicalicious exhibit of more than 50 handmade fairy and gnome houses” at what looked like a gorgeous sculpture garden. I saw that it was located in Solomons, Md, just over an hour’s drive from DC, and put it on my mental bucket list of summer adventures.
Just a few days later, I took Sasha to a birthday party where she adored decorating a small fairy house, which prompted another friend to tell us about the same fantastic place to see the small, whimsical dwellings. Two mentions within in a week? It was a sign from the fairies that we needed to go soon, and within just days of kicking off our stretch of summer leisure, we headed southeast for the second time to experience Annmarie Sculpture Gardens for ourselves.
They don’t waste any time at Annmarie; the art adventure begins upon arrival. The entrance gates, posts made of colorful ceramics, are actually part of the permanent collection and a subtle indication of the delights to come. It gets even better going into the parking area, where a fantastic sculptural fountain sits in the center of the drive. Eager to see more, we headed into the John Dennis Murray Arts Building next to the lot to pay admission and get the scoop on gardens.
Walking into the art center is a wonderful, eye-popping thrill. There is art everywhere — on the walls, atop stands throughout the spacious room, hanging from the ceiling, even lined up on the floor. A dress-up area filled with fanciful garb and accessories — think tutus, suits of “armor,” funky hats, lots of sparkly pieces — welcomes guests to try on, even adorn themselves for the duration of their visit.
Friendly staff greeted us, gave us maps for the gardens and fairy houses, and explained the lay of the land. As I was paying admission, the kids were already getting started on an art activity at a small station nearby. A sheet of questions prompted them to create, draw, and characterize superheros, which they could hang up on the wall. We then headed out the other end of the building to the gardens. Just outside the doors is an area with several tables, where we decided to have the lunch we packed before starting to explore. It was a perfect picnic spot with lovely views of the woods and gardens.
By the time we finished eating, we were all quite eager to begin our garden and fairy house tour and wasted no time hitting the trail. A paved path loops through the grounds, and most of the works are located just off of it, though some you have to seek out more than others — which adds a little challenge to the venture.
Some of the works are part of the permanent collection, and many more are on loan from the Hirshhorn, National Gallery of Art, and other private collections. But walking among them in this setting, surrounded by tall leafy trees and sounds of nature, is a much different experience than a sculpture tour on the National Mall.
And then there are the fairy houses. The adorable collection of little whimsical abodes for sprite-like creatures is there only through the summer, all of them selected from many submissions in an annual fairy house building contest. And they are just fantastic. Created by all ages, individuals and groups, each one has a different theme, but together they are a brilliant showcase of imagination and craftiness.
The path starts and ends at the arts center, and along with the sculptures and houses, we encountered lots of other delights on the route — tree pops, birdhouses, even a turtle. At the end, we stopped at a table outside the art center, where guests were encouraged to paint rocks for a display coming soon.
We finished the art tour, but our Annmarie visit wasn’t nearly done. We headed back into the arts center, so the kids could dress up and get ready to play in the Fairy Lolly, probably the most enchanting playground I’ve ever seen. Amid a large clearing in the woods are colorful little houses, trees decorated with flowers and ribbons, lofty teepees, a fairy stage, a music area, and painted tree stumps. Adirondak chairs are scattered about if you want to relax and take it all in while the kids play. It’s incredible, and we easily could have spent the rest of our visit there, but there was even more to enjoy.
Back inside, we went to the artLab, a “creative reuse center for all ages.” Essentially, it’s an art studio, where guests are not just welcome, but encouraged to make some of their own art using any of the materials, most of them recycled, in the lab. It’s a fantastic space to create art — organized, but not too tidy, making you feel like it’s okay to color outside the lines and think outside the box. A colorful mosaic of recyclable pieces decorates one wall, and other fun art is displayed around the room. There are suggestions and steps for crafts, but everything is self-guided. We all worked on some projects — bottle cap robots, bean art, painting — to cap off our visit. It was a perfect way to end our Annmarie outing: creating art after being so inspired it.
Annmarie Sculpture Garden is located in Solomons, Md, just over an hour from DC. The gardens are open 9am – 5pm, the Arts Building 10am – 5pm. Hours may vary by season or in case of an event, so it’s always good to check before you go. Admission is $5/adult, $3/ages 6-17, free for 5 and under. They also offer classes and camps, and host various events throughout the year (I’ll start keeping you posted!).