Like most people, Barbara Meyers decorates her Baltimore, Md., home with framed family photos displayed on bookshelves and tables. But a large oil painting hung in her dining room, a dramatic landscape of trees aflame in bold oranges and yellows set against majestic mountains, just as easily brings back some of her fondest memories of loved ones.
Barbara Meyers, left, and her brother, Douglas (not pictured), are donating a variety of artworks and knick knacks to Frostburg State University’s Lewis J. Ort Library, where they will become part of the library’s renowned George A. Meyers Collection, one of the largest collections of Marxist literature in the United States. Their father, the late George A. Meyers, a former labor secretary of Maryland’s Communist Party, chairman of the National Labor Commission and a native of Lonaconing, Md., donated the items to FSU in tribute to his working-class roots and connection to Western Maryland. Meyers admires one of her favorite paintings, “Mountainous Autumn Landscape,” with FSU Library Director Dr. David Gillespie, center, and B.J. Davisson, FSU’s vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the FSU Foundation, Inc.
The painting, one of Barbara’s favorites, was a gift she and her brother, George “Douglas” Meyers, bought for their parents in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary during a family trip to Mongolia in 1969. Their father, the late George A. Meyers, a former labor secretary of Maryland’s Communist Party and chairman of the National Labor Commission, was in Mongolia writing articles for “The People’s Daily World.” It was one of the few trips where Barbara and her brother got to go along, and Barbara remembers how the painting cost around $100, which was three months’ pay for the Mongolian artist who made it.
“The painting was unusual because art work in that area was mostly political, and this was this beautiful landscape,” she said. “Our parents were so happy. They loved it so much.”
The painting is one of many artworks and knick knacks in her home that bring back memories of her father, his travels around the world and how people related to him. There’s a Meissen cobalt bowl, a gift from a friend her father met during his regular travels to New York. The bowl was a treasured wedding gift purchased by the woman’s family, who pooled all their money together to buy it. She chose to give this precious heirloom to George, as a token of friendship and appreciation.
There’s “The War is Over” poster from a celebration Barbara’s mother, Alice, and Barbara’s brother, Douglas, attended in New York’s Central Park in 1975. Alice purchased the poster on the way to the event.
“My brother was like, ‘Mom, you’re not going to carry that poster while we’re here!’” Barbara laughed. “As a family, participating in demonstrations, like an anti-war rally against Vietnam and Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, D.C. – that helped to develop how Douglas and I felt about the war and civil rights.”
Now, Barbara, a retired educator of Baltimore City Public School District, and Douglas, a professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, are turning over these items and sharing their memories with Frostburg State University’s Lewis J. Ort Library, where they will become a part of the renowned George A. Meyers Collection. The collection includes nearly 15,000 books on Marxism, Leninism, communism, socialism, labor, unions, women’s rights and U.S. civil rights – making up one of the largest collections of Marxist literature in the United States. It also incorporates manuscript materials, journals, photos, art works, posters, correspondence and memorabilia, all donated by the Meyers family and George’s many friends and contacts. It was first debuted to the public at the Lewis J. Ort Library in October 1997 and has attracted quite a bit of attention over the years.
“We have scholars borrowing materials from this collection almost weekly,” said Dr. David Gillespie, library director, who, together with his staff, has carefully compiled and catalogued countless items and organized them in meticulously labeled files and drawers over the years. “It’s probably the capstone of my career at Frostburg.”
The collection made its way to FSU because of George’s personal ties to Western Maryland and his deep appreciation for the state’s overall working-class history. He grew up in Lonaconing, Md., and his grandfather was part of the community of coal miners whose nickels and dimes built the foundation for what eventually became FSU. George worked in the Celanese Corporation of America textile plant and was instrumental in organizing the Textile Workers’ Union of America local in 1935. Prior to his death in 1999, he visited the University monthly, sharing materials with the library for the collection.
The latest infusion of art work made possible by Barbara and her brother will probably lead to new reasons for art history buffs and labor scholars to make their way to Western Maryland.
“As a family, we really appreciated the art and how it made us more knowledgeable,” Barbara said. “It’s great to share with others what we grew up with and shared with each other – art from different countries and locations.”
Though she has parted with the items added to her father’s collection at FSU, Barbara has no shortage of art in her house – she loves going to art festivals and purchasing different works. And she still gives them away, an act of generosity for her friends and colleagues that George would have appreciated.
Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg is raising badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Gifts support student enrichment, academic enrichment and regional and cultural enrichment. For more information about supporting FSU, visit www.frostburg.edu/waystogive or call 301-687-4161 or 1-866-241-3296, toll free. To learn more about the George A. Meyers Collection, visit /www.frostburg.edu/dept/library.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions and two regional higher education centers of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity.