Balancing Her Hats

If Nadja Maril were to literally wear a hat for every role she played, the stack would topple quickly. Maril is known by many as president of the Anne Arundel County Cultural Arts Foundation (CAF). She also writes columns for a local newspaper and Washington Woman, edits the lighting section for Victorian Homes magazine and has written several books. As a wife and mother of three, you can throw in juggler as another role. And, in her spare time, she appraises antiques for local nonprofits and volunteers at her daughter's school.

The U.S. Army's old recruiting theme, "We do more by 9 a.m. than most people do all day," comes to mind. "I try to prioritize," says Maril, sitting next to her dog Grace in her Murray Hill home, and "put family first."

She doesn't waste time either. A simple trip to the store or the library with daughter Alex turns into an opportunity to connect with the dizzying array of parts that Maril plays. She drops off a press release at the library, shops for a centerpiece display for the upcoming Mardi Gras gala hosted by CAF and pens a freelance article based on her volunteer appraisal for an historic house. Even the dog is slated to become the subject of a story by her and her youngest child Alex.

These connections are probably a little distracting for her 9-year-old, but they let Maril manage the work of 10 and even helped her meet her husband, Peter Crilly. Assigned to write an article on single life in Annapolis, Maril interviewed Annapolitans at various social events. A single person herself, she wound up at a meeting hosted by the Young Anne Arundel Professionals, a group that Crilly, an insurance salesman, helped create. Ironically, the article was never published, but Maril has no regrets.

Maril came back to this area after living in Provincetown, Mass., in the early 1980s. Provincetown was the summer vacation site for the Maril family and the place where Nadja met her first husband Cyril Patrick. While she liked the small New England town, "I wanted a more cosmopolitan setting for the kids," she says. Two of her children are grown---Justin is a law student and Christopher is a sophomore at the University of Maryland.

She and her first husband were both active in the New England community but, working long hours and traveling around the country for antique shows, the couple ran out of time. Her husband's death, however, changed her focus. "The loss of my husband re-emphasized the importance of family and community service," Maril says. So she took a job at an antiques shop to stay busy. "For my sanity, I needed to do something," Maril recalls.

And stay busy she did. Eventually, she became vice president of CAF and is now president. The job of running CAF is a daunting one. The group gives grants to more than 30 local non-profit arts groups, in addition to sponsoring workshops and monthly art exhibits and administering the annual "Annie" award that honors outstanding artistic achievements. When County Executive Janet Owens first tapped her to be president, Maril admits, "I didn't know what I was getting into."

With only a skeleton staff, it's up to the CAF's board of directors to make sure the grants are spent well and to monitor how many people in the community are being reached. Promoting the foundation is also a major undertaking that Maril cannot delegate to someone else. Despite the challenges, Maril enjoys the unpaid job and appreciates the support that CAF gets from the county. "It's nice to feel positive about your work, especially your volunteer work," Maril observes. "If you don't get joy out of it," she adds, "it's not going to happen."

Maril and Patrick owned a general antiques store that spawned her fascination with antique lamps and lighting. "I loved antique jewelry and glass and he loved leaded glass. We liked to hang old pieces [for display]. We started hanging them on old fixtures. People liked the old fixtures and it just grew." Fielding a lot of questions from customers looking to buy quality lamps, Maril decided to write a book, "The Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide," to help consumers pick out the real thing among the many pieces of attic junk sold every year.

The proliferation of the famous painted Tiffany lamp, now part of the décor in fast food restaurants, "makes it harder to explain why you should buy an antique," Maril says. The uniqueness and value of the original have faded as a result. "It's depressing," she remarks. She is now a national expert on late 19th and early 20th century lighting and author of "American Lighting 1840-1940."

The energetic writer, appraiser and mom has come up with yet even more projects, once she has the time. She wants to convert a Jewish folk tale about a storyteller into a novel and is contemplating another book on antiques, this one giving an insider's perspective on the antique dealing business. "Art enriches the quality of people's lives," she notes. "It's something I feel very passionate about."

Art clearly is a family trait. The living room walls are covered with paintings by her late father, Herman Maril, who died in 1986. His works are included in a permanent collection at the University of Maryland University College, as well as the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York. One of the paintings depicts a black cat draped over a radiator, the main character for two children's books that Nadja published with her father. She remembers "being at loose ends" in Santa Barbara, where she had gone to school and later found work as a secretary. On a visit home, the idea for "Me, Molly Midnight, the Artist's Cat" was launched. Maril loves to write. "It's a real pleasure finding the right sentence so somebody can understand it."

If the paint-by-numbers set sitting on a desk near the kitchen is any sign, her passion for the arts will continue to the next generation.

Ann Marie Maloney works in downtown Annapolis. Her passions include writing, road trips, Cajun food, and the Terps.


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