Ebersberger recalls with enthusiasm the pivotal moment that drew him to Maryland Hall. Shortly after graduating college, he and a friend went to a sketch group at Weems Creek Community Center. He spotted an artist working and was completely awestruck by his work. “I remember saying, ‘can you teach me how to draw?’ The artist was Cedric Egeli, who happened to be teaching at Maryland Hall in the late ‘70s. Ebersberger quickly enrolled in his portrait and figure drawing classes.
“It was really just mind-blowing. I was in my early 20’s and to have that gift to study with a really gifted and important artist was phenomenal,” said Ebersberger, noting that Egeli’s instruction permeated throughout the Maryland Hall community. His key students later became impactful instructors -- including the late Lee Boynton and Bonnie Roth Anderson.
In 1985, Ebersberger started teaching at Maryland Hall along with Josephine Beebe who was also influenced by Egeli’s instruction. A number of Maryland Hall’s Visual Arts teachers then took the next step in advancing their artistic knowledge by studying color with Henry Hensche -- then in his mid-80s -- at the Cape School of Art. “I remember Cedric bringing Henry down to visit my studio [at Maryland Hall] to show him my work around 1983/84.” Clearly an unforgettable memory for Ebersberger and a turning point in his work.
Passing Down the Potent Brew
“It was a wow!” recalled Ebersberger. Hensche was originally Charles Hawthorne’s teaching assistant in the 1920’s. (Hawthorne was a noted painter who founded the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899.) “He was somebody who arced back to a whole different time period. It shaped my entire career and my entire artistic life. Between the classical realism of Egeli and the impressionist color of Hensche, it’s a potent brew,” Ebersberger said.
It’s that potent brew Ebersberger himself exudes that keeps students, professionals, hobbyists and retirees coming back for in the classes he teaches at Maryland Hall. A backbone steeped in artistic wisdom that Emily Garvin, Maryland Hall’s Vice President of Programs says will continue with vigor. “Several of John’s students have evolved into fantastic teaching artists and accomplished artists. Our aim is to keep connecting these artists with the community through our classes and exhibits.”
One such artist who promises to pass down this “potent brew” of artistic wisdom is Melissa Gryder, once an Ebersberger student, is now teaching Visual Arts at Maryland Hall. Gryder remembers very clearly how her life and career dramatically changed after meeting Ebersberger. A graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA, Gryder was just five-years out of school and had just moved to Annapolis. As a gift, her husband bought her a figure drawing class at Maryland Hall with Ebersberger. “It was like walking into the art class that I always dreamed of,” recounted Gryder. “There were full-time professional artists working alongside novices. I was incredibly impressed by the caliber of work going on in that class.”
Gryder started taking multiple painting classes with Ebersberger and was introduced to the teachings of Henry Hensche, the Cape School, and the Egelis. She was flabbergasted by the thriving Annapolis Impressionism scene. “My entire career shifted. I took as many classes as I could,” said Gryder. She began delving into plein air painting, exploring color and figurative and portrait work as well as discovering a new love for the palette knife. Gryder continued, “I had finally found a place to learn all of the things that had been missing. John is the most influential art teacher I have had.”
No Distance too Far for Learning
In addition to his impact on Gryder, Ebersberger has many other ecstatic fans and class regulars. He cites one man who, for the past eight years, has been driving two and a half hours from Pennsylvania every Monday to take his class. He even comes early to help Ebersberger set up the classroom.
“Instructors like John demonstrate the tenacity and personal commitment to living and working as an artist through their authentic exchange with students,” said Garvin. “All of our instructors are passionate about sharing their artistic skills with the community. It takes years of dedication and discipline to become a teaching artist that will draw the attention of students regionally.”
“I’ve had people fly up from Florida and the Carolinas. I had a guy email me recently from Belgium who was going to be Alexandria, Virginia, and he wanted to take a class from me,” Ebersberger said, noting people seek him out because he was a student of Hensche.
While the demand for Ebersberger’s classes is certainly flattering, it’s actually teaching that helps him hone his craft. “You’re clarifying what you’re doing and what you are trying to impart.”
Ebersberger has taught many workshops throughout the country and the world, but says Maryland Hall sets itself apart. “It’s a special integration. It’s been really neat because of the Symphony and the Ballet being here. At various times I’ve painted ballerinas and musicians who have performed here. [I have] the ability to teach without a lot of constrictions or demands on a style or approach.”
The freedom to teach was the biggest learning benefit Gryder reaped from Maryland Hall. “My academic experience focused on more abstract ideas. John taught me how to actually observe life and paint to create a mood, not just how to copy something.”
Precisely, the benefit Ebersberger clung to when he stumbled upon the riches within the large brick building, formerly Annapolis High School. “The education I got here [Maryland Hall] was the traditional education system. When I was in art school there was nothing like this. Maryland Hall was on the vanguard of what was going to happen in New York with this really intense re-visitation of classical realism.”
Preserving the Quality of What We Already Have
As Maryland Hall approaches its 40th Anniversary (in 2019), Ebersberger’s only wish for Maryland’s Hall is to preserve what works, tipping his hat, for example, to the ancient easels. “Sometimes it’s not what you do but what you don’t do. To hold on to that. To not always think you have to be moving ahead with the newest and the best, when the best might be right under your nose and you don’t even know it’s there sometimes.”
The nuances of life being right under one’s nose is exactly what Gryder pointed to as Ebersberger’s strength as a teacher. “John inspired me to notice subtle color and atmospheric changes that resulted in me being more aware of the beauty surrounding us,” Gryder explained. Her hope? To pass down to her new flock of students the timeless traditions and community connectivity that the Maryland Hall’s greats instilled in her.