East City Profiles: Passageway Studios in Riverdale, MD

By Christina Scheltema on May 13, 2015
Hallway at Passageways
Central Corridor at Passageways Artist’s Studios, Riverdale, MD. Photo by Christina Scheltema for East City Art.


Passageways Artists’ Studios  –  a collaborative of ten artists who work in a variety of media, including acrylic, collage, mixed media, oil, pastels photography, stained glass, and watercolor  –  is hosting its annual Open Studio Day on May 17, 2015 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

For Dick Youniss, Open Studio is a time to stop and reflect and invite family and friends to stop by and share the work.  Marla McLean, told East City Art, “It is a joy when we all meet up for Open Studios, I so often only see the Sunday folks who pass in and out.” Marie Crow shared, “It’s so nice to get new energy in and talk to people.  People ask you things that you would never think about.”

Passageways is hidden away – above the Eastpines Center on Riverdale Road (aka Route 410), in Prince George’s county Maryland – a stone’s throw from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.  The entrance is elusive, atop a black metal staircase adjacent to the driveway leading to the rear parking lot.

When I first visited, the light was streaming in through the skylight, bouncing off a mirror in one of the studios, creating these amazing shadows. The effect was simply magical.

Marla McLEan's Syncretism of Saints1
Light Striking Mirror & Marla McLean’s Syncretism of Saints. Photo by Christina Scheltema for East City Art.


The artists were welcoming and generous with their time.  They shared some of their ongoing work and their experiences with the studio.

Ronnie Spiewak, who arranged my visit, showed me her work with postcards, sent from someone’s vacation years ago. “It’s a really exciting notion that these have a history,” she told me.  Ronnie is a collage artist who finds inspiration in many things – one piece is a tribute to her father and his love of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

Magda Rosenbaum showed me her work in progress, Ten Years around the World, a series of paintings featuring wonderful clothing from her years as a State Department spouse.  The clothes, which have been sitting in the closet, will be immortalized in paintings and then given away.

Janet Matthews told us how she uses studio time to structure her days, compose still photographs, or paint.  George Tuggle shared his work on the Boathouse Mural, in Bowie MD, and told me of his training as an illustrator and years as a commercial artist.

Stevie O’Grady shared how her work has evolved over time – from stained glass to landscape paintings to more abstract work.

In short, I found a thriving community of artists at Passageways, who speak of each other with affection and great respect.

At that point during my visit, the music from the storefront church below became louder and louder, and many of the weekday artists, there for my visit, began to leave.  Many found the sound of the church service to be distracting.

However, for Marla McLean, whose no-matter-what studio day is on Sunday, the sound is inspiring.

She told me, “Fiery sermons, fervor, and a full gospel band rocking out in jubilation, praise, and release all travel directly into my studio through the vent system. It is the soundtrack to my making.  Sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes ironic, and sometimes, I must put on headphones and make my own soundtrack.  This weekly experience makes me feel a sense of tenderness and a sense of place.”

The space that is now Passageways was converted to studios in 1991.  The original group of artists, who did the work themselves, decided to construct partial walls.  Skylights were installed in the ceiling to bring in the light.

As George Tuggle explained, “We all have our own spaces and can mingle to look at each other’s work.”

Over the years, artists have come and gone.  Dick Youniss, Stevie O’Grady, and Deborah Hoeper are among the original members; whereas Marie Crow is the newest.

When there is a vacancy, Stevie O’Grady told me, new artists are selected through a jury process.  They come in, present their work, and meet the other artists to ensure that they are a good fit for the group.

Marla McLain’s told me, “There is both respect and camaraderie as we all strive to practice our art in our individual yet connected spaces.”

According to Stevie O’Grady, “You get a few people working here and the energy is contagious.”  John DeFabbio added, “The camaraderie is really nice.”

“It’s a gift to have people who are gifted artists talk to you and review art with you,” Dick Youniss said.  “We can bring an awareness to each other of what the work means to us.”

Ronnie & Steveie @ Passageways
Two Passageways Artists: Ronnie Spiewak and Stevie O’Grady.  Photo by Christina Scheltema for East City Art.


The Annual Passageway Studio open house will take place Sunday, May 17, 2015 from 2-5pm

Passageways Artists’ Studios are located at 6001 66th Avenue, Riverdale, MD 20737 |  phone (301)459-8038 | Parking Available | For directions, visit the website at passagewaysstudio.com