Gary and Elana Vikan: Celebrating Baltimore’s Treasures

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The Vikan family in the 1990s
The Vikan family in the 1990s

In recognition of their 30-year impact on the art, education and cultural life of Baltimore, Gary and Elana Vikan are serving as honorary co-chairs of the third annual Celebration of Art to benefit the Cylburn Arboretum Association.  Celebration of Art takes place at Cylburn’s Vollmer Center Saturday, June 14 and Sunday June 15.

The Vikans have been devoted city residents for 30 years. With their two daughters they moved to Baltimore in 1984, when Gary began at the Walters Art Museum as chief curator/medieval curator.  He later served for 18 years as the museum director before retiring in 2013.  Elana’s 29-year career was at Roland Park Country School, where she taught Russian, French, and History of Art. She also retired in 2013.

“Through our professional lives, our neighborhood, and our children, Gary and I formed a web of friendships,” says Elana. “That web is united by a deep commitment to Baltimore and its treasures, treasures like The Walters and Cylburn.  Where the tradition of Art Blooms at the Walters brings flowers to art, Celebration of Art at Cylburn brings art to flowers. In both instances, art and nature are interwoven to enhance each other, so that we can experience ‘luxe, calme, et volupté,’ Baudelaire’s ideal of luxury, serenity, and richness of life in his poem ‘L’Invitation au Voyage.’”

The Vikans’ lives are now enriched by time:  time to write, time to garden and time to travel. Gary is at work on his memoirs of his professional career, many of which involve art theft. Elana’s current favorite activity is going to Washington, D.C. every week to babysit her 17-month old grandchild. The Vikans just returned from taking their family to London where they stayed in Chelsea.

Over the years the family developed this pattern of going to one city for a week to ten days during Christmas and spring vacations. They traveled to Munich, London, Istanbul, Rome, Florence, Madrid.  In summers they usually rented a place in France, in Provence or the Dordogne, then in Paris. “We all adore France, its markets and bistros, villages, culture, language and art,” says Elana.

At home she does the gardening, mostly containers on the terrace. The family has always liked to leave the expansive slope behind the house green. “I sit among a veritable cornucopia of beautiful flowers, nearly all in pots and all the work of Elana,” says Gary. “I do all of the cooking, so I think that’s a good deal all around.”

During the weekend Celebration of Art Gary Vikan will give an illustrated lecture on Sunday, June 15 at 2 p.m. in the Vollmer Center. With a backdrop of nearly 100 works created by regional artists, he will explore the impact of recent developments in brain science on possible solutions to such old and puzzling questions as: Why are experts fooled by fakes? Is here something called “significant form,” forms in art that we all acknowledge as beautiful? How is an artist’s creativity affected by brain damage?  The lecture is free, but reservations are required by calling 410-367-2217.

All Celebration of Art events and art sales benefit the nature programs, children’s camp, weekend and evening programs at Baltimore’s historic arboretum.  Located at 4915 Green Spring Avenue, Cylburn is situated on 207 acres just off of Northern Parkway near Sinai Hospital. A green oasis within the city, Cylburn features the original 1868 mansion designed by George A. Frederick for Quaker businessman Jesse Tyson, 20 well-maintained gardens and 3.5 miles of walking trails.

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