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Romaine Stec Somerville, an artwork historian and chief in Baltimore historic preservation, dies – Baltimore Sun

Romaine Stec Somerville, an artwork historian and chief in historic preservation circles who later directed the previous Maryland Historical Society, died of problems of a hip fracture Tuesday. She was a affected person on the Gilchrist Center in Towson.

She was 91 and lived in Bolton Hill for a few years.

“Romaine was a champion for preservation on all levels,” mentioned David H. Gleason, a good friend and fellow preservationist. “She sought to bring to light and to promote the history of Baltimore City. She was truly a great steward of Baltimore’s historic legacies.”

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of Michael J. Stec, a doctor, and Julia, a trainer and homemaker. Her mother and father had been of Ukrainian ancestry. She earned levels at Marymount College and Columbia University, spent a yr on the Sorbonne in Paris and studied at Yale University. She loved horseback driving and snowboarding within the Poconos as a younger lady.

She took a job as a Baltimore Museum of Art ornamental arts curator shortly after taking a sabbatical from Yale.

“I arrived at Mount Vernon Place,” she mentioned of her 1960 introduction to Baltimore. “I looked around the square and fell madly in love with the architecture. I said to myself, ‘If this job is at all acceptable, I’m going to live in a city that has a monument like this.’”

She nonetheless thought it might be a brief job. But on a blind date on New Year’s Eve, she met her future husbandFrank P.L. Somerville on the L’Hirondelle Club. They married in 1962 and later renovated a Bolton Hill dwelling.

“For 60 years, she devoted herself to protecting and promoting the history, art, culture and architecture of the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland,” mentioned her daughter, Julia Somerville Ulstrup. “She worked to make the city a better place for its residents. She was proud to be a Baltimorean.”

Mrs. Somerville went on to turn out to be the chief director of the town’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. She labored to ascertain Baltimore’s first 5 historic neighborhood districts at Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Seton Hill, Union Square and Dickeyville. She was additionally an advocate of Baltimore’s greenback home homesteading program.

Her daughter mentioned she was an opponent of a deliberate interstate freeway by the town that will have worn out neighborhoods. She additionally spoke in opposition to a plan to take away Baltimore City Hall’s landmark cast-iron dome within the Seventies. Decades later, she assisted the rebirth of The Peale on Holliday Street.

“I keep in mind as a child, having a station wagon filled with bumper stickers saying, ‘Save the City Hall Dome,” her daughter said.

Friends said she retained her scholarly ways before she became a curator at the Maryland Historical Society, now known as the Maryland Center for History and Culture, a post she held from 1978 to 1984. She was its first woman director.

“She was a trailblazer at the Maryland Historical Society,” said Mark Letzer, president of the Maryland Center for History and Culture. “She had the best twinkle in her eye. She was cherubic and worked miracles wherever she went.”

Stiles T. Colwill, a friend and curator, said: “Romaine was a towering figure in Baltimore’s arts group. She inspired all of the youthful curators she employed to do main exhibitions and catalogs. When I requested about doing a present on the painter Francis Guy, she mentioned, “Run with it.”

“She could be great fun, had a wicked sense of humor. She and her husband were quite a pair and they played off one another. She could be inquisitive. If she thought she was right, she would not let go.”

Beverly Whiting Young, a good friend and former co-worker, mentioned: “She could be a force of nature when she felt strongly about something. She was determined and steadfast. She was truly passionate about the city of Baltimore.”

Somerville promoted the historical past, artwork and tradition of Maryland. She organized quite a few everlasting shows, particular displays, faculty applications and group occasions designed to commemorate facets of Maryland historical past and life.

“Romaine was interested in scholarly research. She recognized the importance of the historical society’s fine and decorative arts and was always seeking to have new scholarship and exhibits that opened these to the public,” mentioned Gregory Weidman, curator at Hampton National Historic Site and Fort McHenry National Monument.

Mrs. Somerville believedthat Baltimore would survive, partially, by training and tourism.

“Educational tourism is a fast-growing trend throughout America. By offering visitors the opportunity to explore individual interests — baseball, railroading, music, science, visionary art, the Civil War, African-American history, — Baltimore’s network of specialized museums has tremendous economic potential,” she wrote in The Sun in 1997.

She additionally wrote: “Museums are about keeping conventioneers and families in Baltimore for one more meal or one more night to see something that is of special interest to that individual or family. Baltimore needs more museums, not fewer.”

She went on to go a neighborhood-based preservation group in Fells Point and Federal Hill from 1993 to 2000.

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“As executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point Inc., she was instrumental in providing leadership in efforts to preserve the 18th century London Coffee House and the George Wells House,” mentioned Mr. Gleason, a good friend who at the moment heads the society. “Romaine guided the redevelopment of the Trolley Barn on Thames Street as the Visitor Center for the Society.”

She promoted the group as a vacationer vacation spot.

“A good example is Fells Point. More than a half-million visitors came to Fells Point in 1996 by water transportation alone — only to get right back on the boat because there was no destination ‘museum’ to tell them about the 18th century community and to direct them to area shops, restaurants and taverns,” she mentioned in 1997.

She was additionally lively in Baltimore Heritage, Preservation Maryland and The Peale. She additionally was a marketing consultant to the Mother Seton House and was a visitor curator for the Roman Catholic Church Bicentennial Exhibit, Archdiocese of Baltimore.

As a Bolton Hill resident, she attended Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church. She made Ukrainian mushroom barley soup for the neighborhood’s annual competition. A fan of theater, she usually took a day without work and visited New York for a matinee.

A memorial service is being deliberate.

Survivors embrace her husband of 60 years, Frank P. L. Somerville, a retired Baltimore Sun journalist; a daughter, Julia Somerville Ulstrup of Washington, D.C.; and two grandchildren.



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