As an artist, Gainesville’s Margaret Ross Tolbert has often been drawn to the exotic, which explains why she has worked in such Silk Road places as Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Then Tolbert began exploring the springs along the Ocklawaha River, including the 20 drowned springs covered by the Rodman Reservoir that was created when the Kirkpatrick Dam (formerly the Rodman Dam) was built to block the eastward flow the river.
“I realized exotic is in my backyard,” Tolbert said in an interview.
Now the springs will be the subject of two art exhibits in Jacksonville, both curated by Jim Draper, coordinator of the University of North Florida Gallery of Art. The first exhibit to open will be “Lost Springs of the Ocklawaha,” which opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Sept 21 at the UNF Lufrano Intercultural Gallery, located on the second floor of the UNF Student Union, Building 58E.
The multi-media exhibit, which will continue through Oct. 24, features images, sculpture and film of Cannon Springs and Tobacco Patch Springs created by various artists, including Tolbert, St. Augustine-based environmental filmmaker Matt Keene, Karen Chadwick and Mark Long.
The second exhibit, “Margaret Ross Tolbert: Lost Springs” will open in the UNF Gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, 333 N. Laura St., on Sept. 23. There will be a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 24, with the movie, “Lost Springs,” a collaboration between Tolbert and Keene, screening from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the MOCA Theatre. That exhibit, which continues through Dec. 31, features large scale paintings that Tolbert was still in the process of creating last week.
Tolbert, who would like to see the Kirkpatrick Dam permanently breached and the Ocklawaha River returned to an uninterrupted flow north to the St. Johns River, visits, explores and paints the “lost springs” on the occasions when the gates of the dam are opened every few years. She estimated she’s made about 20 visits to the springs during two different drawdowns.
She writes about the lost springs as passionately and as vividly as she paints them: “The Rodman Dam restricts the flow of the Ocklawaha, vivisecting the migration route of fish and manatees, incapacitating the river and its ability to restore and denitrify itself, and backing up waters over beautiful freshwater springs upriver.
“I explored these springs during the drawdown of the Rodman Reservoir, which occurs every four years and reveals a hint of the wonderland under the backed-up waters. Catfish Spring burbles away in the actual Rodman reservoir, waters flowing from the small cave whip strands of hydrilla in a dance of energy, scarcely glimpsed from the surface. Dive down amidst the thousands of dead and broken cypress trees to see this incredible small spring, golden and green and clear, underneath the brown waters.”
“This is a great example of an artist using her work to engage an audience in conversation about specific issues,” Draper said.
The film “Lost Springs” will get screenings at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 and Oct. 3, and at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 12, all in the Student Union Auditorium, room 2704 in the UNF Student Union. There will be a panel discussion featuring Tolbert and Keene, in conjunction with the UNF Environmental Center, from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 2 in the MOCA Theatre.
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413