Meet the man who immortalized ‘The Mayor’
Artist made homeless man a part of Silver Spring lore
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006
Because of dyslexia, Folsom struggled with reading and writing in school. But he learned how to cope. He realized he had good drawing skills and if he drew a good picture to accompany something like a book report, he would get a higher grade.
Later, he saw those same coping and survival skills in Norman Lane, a homeless man known throughout downtown Silver Spring as ‘‘The Mayor.” And Folsom, now 61, empathized with Lane, who was facing invisible barriers, just like his own.
‘‘I learned how to make do with what I had,” Folsom said. ‘‘So did he.”
After Lane’s death, Folsom created a bronze bust of Lane’s likeness, complete with trademark construction hat. It was dedicated in 1991 and stands on the Mayor’s Promenade, an alley off Georgia Avenue. He recently created a plaque to go with the statue detailing who Lane was and what he did in Silver Spring.
‘‘I realized nobody knew who he was anymore,” Folsom said.
‘‘[Folsom] is a humanitarian at heart,” said Eliot Pfanstiehl, president and CEO of Strathmore Hall Foundation Inc., and a longtime friend of Folsom’s. ‘‘He really believes in the good in people first.”
Folsom knew Lane for about 15 years. Sometimes Lane would sleep in Folsom’s truck, because at that time Folsom, now a Wheaton resident, lived not far from the auto body shops and fire station Lane frequented on Georgia Avenue.
‘‘When he died, I felt there was something missing,” Folsom said. ‘‘Everyone in Silver Spring knew him. A lot of them loved him.”
Folsom, primarily a painter, often focuses his work on people. But in Lane’s case, he changed mediums, capturing all the lines in his wrinkled face. It took Folsom about a year to create.
‘‘He looked like [former President] Lyndon Johnson. I had to change his face just a little bit,” Folsom said.
The resemblance was so great, Folsom said, that Johnson himself noticed it when he passed the real Lane in Silver Spring on the way back from a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Johnson took a moment to stop and talk with Lane, and get his photo taken. Lane, Folsom said, was unfazed.
And Folsom’s interest in Lane wasn’t surprising, Pfanstiehl said. Folsom looks for the good in people and ‘‘lives on the high road of life.”
‘‘Only Fred would have come up with this concept,” Pfanstiehl said of the Lane bust, adding it was a selfless act. ‘‘He had a huge heart.”
Folsom, who still buys his art supplies in downtown Silver Spring, has been a professional artist for about 35 years — a business, he said, that’s challenging but satisfying. He is best known for a painting he did of a Shepherd Park go-go bar just over the Washington, D.C., line, called ‘‘Naked Lunch.”
‘‘I think artists are just compelled to do it,” Folsom said. ‘‘What separates people who do it as a hobby from someone professional is just sort of a feeling and a calling.”