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The DoMa Gallery

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The DoMa Gallery would never have existed without Bert. The Basset Hound named for Roberto Clemente was a fine specimen of his breed, perhaps of show quality, but as the beloved pet of art collectors Stan Mazaroff and Nancy Dorman, Bert bore no intentional relation to the great historical precedent set for him at Timber Ridge Farm.

The 85-acre farm was the first property the couple looked at in their quest for a country home, and they were immediately smitten. However, they were unaware of the farm’s historic role in reviving a sport and social club featuring their exact breed of dog, as well as its deep connection to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) where the previous owner, Charles Ross Rogers, had served as chief curator and acting director from 1932 to 1939.

Rogers had been the fourth owner of the property, purchasing the farm in 1938. After a brief flirtation with farming, he rented out the fields and turned the place into a social club for the gentry in the late 1940s. Timber Ridge became known for “Basseting,” a centuries-old pastime that included walking the countryside with a drink in hand while following a pack of braying Bassets who were “hunting” a rabbit that was rarely caught. It wasn’t so much hunting as it was a pleasant social activity, followed by dances and dinners. The practice and farm became so popular that the Timber Ridge Bassets were featured on the covers of Life Magazine (1955) and the Baltimore Sun Magazine (February 1947).

Fifty years later, the farm was listed for sale by Mina Rogers, Charles’ widow, herself a proud breeder of Bassets. When she received the offer to buy the property from Baltimore City dwellers, she expressed skepticism. However, when she learned that they owned a Basset, she agreed to a meeting with the couple—and their dog. After a thorough inspection of Bert, she pronounced him a fine animal, and agreed to sell them the farm. Dorman and Mazaroff were thrilled to become the fifth owners of the property, with cultivated gardens, open meadows, a farmhouse, and several outbuildings.

 

The farm offered more space for the couple’s growing art collection which had begun to exceed the available space in the Bolton Hill brownstone where they have resided for over fifty years. For both, a love of the arts began in childhood, but as adults in Baltimore was cultivated by the desire to participate in the local arts community beginning in the 1970s with early purchases at the George Ciscle Gallery, MICA student and faculty show- cases, the BMA Sales and Rental Gallery, and art auctions supporting the Contemporary Museum.

“We never thought of it as collecting,” says Dorman. “We just started buying art that we wanted to live with.” The couple began with Baltimore galleries, purchasing from the C. Grimaldis Gallery, Dalsheimer, Goya Contemporary, and Gomez Gallery, acquiring works by Soledad Salamé, Grace Hartigan, John Ruppert, and Chul Hyun Ahn.

The couple fell in love with contemporary artists who reflected their views on progressive social issues and necessary cultural shifts prioritizing human rights and social justice. They gravitated toward photography, sculp- ture, and paintings by women and artists of color, with a natural expansion in patronage at New York galleries to include works by Alfredo Jaar, Sarah Sze, Louise Lawler, Leonardo Drew, Robin Rhode, and Gary Simmons. The collection expanded with artists they discovered on trips to Europe such as Paul Wallach, Rachel Harrison, Sergio Verastegui, and Dionisio Gonzalez.

Now, after a significant donation to found the Dorman/ Mazaroff Print, Drawing and Photography Center at the BMA, approximately 100 works from their collection have been selected by the museum to become part of the perma- nent collection. However, the crowning jewel of their love affair with art, landscape, and architecture is arguably the DoMa Gallery, a modernist steel and glass structure built inside a barn in northern Baltimore County.

 

After its completion in 2004, the building was recognized nationally by the American Institute of Architects with an Honor Award for Excellence in Architectural Design, describing it as a “pristine structure” where one could “enjoy past and present at the same time.” But for Dorman and Mazaroff, the most important aspect of the space is its functionality.

When they purchased the property, the barn, built in 1850, presented the most immediate problem. A shaggy behemoth with the original boards full of wormholes, the loose wooden structure was collapsing atop a stone base. It needed to be completely rebuilt or torn down, but they wanted to keep the character and appearance of the orig- inal barn while modernizing it. They weren’t sure how to do this, but their own desire to host and connect with art communities on the property revealed an answer.

After the groundbreaking Regarding Beauty exhibit in 1999–00 at the Hirshhorn, Dorman and Mazaroff hosted curator Olga Viso for a lecture in the country. “Olga gave a great talk in the old barn to a large crowd, among bales of hay, but we were lucky no one fell through the floor,” recalls Mazaroff. That day, architect Barbara Wilks was in attendance, and she offered some ideas about how to best renovate the barn. She sent a proposal, and they were stunned that her plans—experimental and modern, but also respectful of the original structure—were exactly what they wanted.

“We bought the farm because we wanted a place in the countryside and we think it’s a beautiful property,” says Dorman. “It really was not originally a purchase for art, but when we realized the barn needed to be renovated, we started paying more attention to the art and architecture, and how we could combine the two.”

Under the direction of W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, founded by Wilks in 1999, the near ruined barn with weathered slats was transformed into a sophisticated space to host events and exhibit a growing art collection. Wilks merged opposites: historic with modern and opaque with transparent. After they stabilized the antique wooden structure, Wilks built a pristine glass box inside the first floor of the building to house the art collection, and they added a kitchen and a guest room downstairs. The DoMa Gallery moniker, a combination of the couple’s last names, is also the work of Wilks.

According to the architecture firm’s website, “The contrast between the architecturally pure glass volume and the rough, vernacular character of the barn is not only material; it is also temporal in nature. The location of the barn, on the border between cultivated land and natural forest, forms another element of contrast.” Dorman and Mazaroff were now the owners of a beautiful space for art housed inside a building that encapsulated their values of historic preservation and contemporary ingenuity.

 

Over the past twenty years, Dorman and Mazaroff both served on the boards of Baltimore’s major museums. Dorman became a trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Mazaroff became a trustee of the Walters Art Museum. Following his legal career, Mazaroff enrolled full time as a Special Student for five years in the art history department of Johns Hopkins University, and became an art historian, writing two scholarly books published by Johns Hopkins Press about art acquired by the Walters and the BMA: Henry Walters and Bernard Berenson, published in 2010, and A Paris Life—A Baltimore Treasure, published in 2018.

In 2021, the BMA announced a promised gift from Dorman and Mazaroff of approximately 100 works of art by nearly 70 artists. The gift came one year after the museum received a significant donation from the couple to establish a center dedicated to the presentation, study, and preservation of its 65,000-object collection of prints, drawings, and photographs. The Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs opened in December 2021, the same time as the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies, and promises to make the BMA’s collection of delicate works on paper accessible to scholars and the general public with a large, dedicated gallery space for ongoing exhibitions of the museum’s significant collection of works on paper.

The collection of Dorman and Mazaroff that makes up the current donation includes works by a number of internationally recognized artists, and includes paintings, sculpture, textiles, mixed-media works, and decorative arts by Anthony Caro, Sam Gilliam, Hun Chung Lee, and Rania Matar. However, it also includes works by artists who are based in or have ties to Balti- more, including Roland Freeman, Connie Imboden, Cheeny Celebrado-Royer, Sarada Conaway, Elizabeth Talford Scott, Larry Cook, and Stephen Towns, building a legacy for the future based in the cultural excellence that Baltimore currently offers.

As a BMA trustee and participant in the contemporary accessions, Dorman says it’s essential that “our museum is different and distinguished from all other museums,” through collecting work strategically from this region. The couple says they continue to collect, but only in moderation because they have, once again, run out of space.

These days, when you drive up to Timber Ridge Farm, there are no Bassets, but you are greeted by a number of outdoor sculptures installed along walking paths and punctuating green spaces, including two life-sized “wolves” by Leonard Streckfus, as well as works by Kirsten Campbell, John Van Alstine, and David Hess. Once you’re inside the barn, the quality of light and reflection in the glass emphasize the rich patina of age and nature upon the original structure, a significant work of art in itself that, like its owners, elevates and highlights the unique contributions of contemporary artists to this region.

 

This article originally appeared in the BmoreArt Print Journal, Issue 13: Collect. If you'd like to read and enjoy the photos in print, head to our online shop.

This story is from Issue 13: Collect, available here.

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