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Earth mamas will groove on 'Earth Song' art show in Mount Dora

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Thanks to the annual Mount Dora Arts Festival, there were more feet on the sidewalk than usual last weekend in Mount Dora, and it's still worth the trip through premodern Floridiana to reach its bustling core. The town's Center for the Arts started their year with an aptly titled exhibit, Earth Song, featuring work by Cheryl Bogdanowitsch, Suzanne Kragiel, Karen Provost and Anna Tomczak. Nature, and our relationship to it, inspires these artists' photography, painting and sculpture.

The sculptures include the ancient art form of masks. Suzanne Kragiel says of her work, "I begin with a sense that something, or someone, is waiting for me." From this intuition she pulls out a personality, weaving bones, twigs, pods and other natural ephemera into a three-dimensional portrait. "Trickster" has a rose-petal mouth, eye-blinders of stitched bone and a knurled bark antenna, an appropriate warning for tricksters of our times.

While universal archetypes are reflected in Kragiel's masks, painter Karen Provost zeroes in specifically on the mother figure. We asked Provost about her richly colored acrylic paintings, many collaged with text. "I'm focused on the meaning of the Mother," she says, but hastens to add, "not in its religious aspect – there are no Madonna-and-Child portraits here – but someone deeper and more ancient: Mother Earth. Mother Nature." Her portrait of "Sedna, Goddess of the Sea" breaks from a traditionally male-dominated mythology, throwing Poseidon and Neptune overboard. Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "The Chambered Nautilus" is tattooed on Sedna's back. She looks over her shoulder. She's watching you.

Anna Tomczak's more subtly colored prints draw the viewer into a world of ballet dancers, parrots, epiphytes, fortunetellers and even a moth child. Tomczak's process is to transfer large-format Polaroid prints onto paper while the emulsion is still wet, sometimes adding text or other drawings to these prints, creating soft, deep images. Each comes with a brief allegory. She writes about "Stella (the red ballet)" as a dreamer, someone who can "listen to Maria Callas while figuring out the velocity of a kite." The red-costumed dancer unites with an indigo celestial chart, each poised and perfect in her own way.

Also populating this tiny gallery are Cheryl Bogdanowitsch's metaphysical sculptures. This Winter Park artist harvests tree branches and adds ceramic busts, body parts, birds and other items to enhance the unique ikebana of each woody outgrowth. "Crepe Myrtle Girl" is indeed a crepe myrtle branch transformed into a young woman. Her heavy-lidded gaze and parted lips imply, perhaps, a lonely poet about to speak. Tree limb twists, turns, twigs and knots inform each character, resulting in an individual, localized, yet broadly recognizable soul.

This crying Earth is busy responding to our depredations, and it's time to look at what we've done to her. This show reminds us of the many faces of her nature, including our own. It provides the viewer a peculiar sense of grounding combined with release, timely as we enter a new year and think of the world about to come upon us.