by Lisa Farese
It was a blending of expressions - all ages, all levels of expertise and all mediums imaginable came together as one. The result? Vibrant works that hung adjacent to one another, depicting a woven tapestry of St. Augustine created by none other than the very residents who call this historic city home.
It was Ancient City Mosaic, and the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration team is bringing it back as part of the Tapestry: The Cultural Threads of First America exhibition. Celebrating the three cultures that formed the foundation of the American culture—Hispanic, African and Native American cultures—this exhibition has three main prongs.
There will be a signature, 4,000-square-foot exhibition, a community-wide passport program and, of course, Ancient City Mosaic. The main exhibition will have a strong archeological component to it. Additionally, there will be a council hut built to scale, a model of the San Pelayo ship on which Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés traveled to St. Augustine in 1565 donated by Avilés, Spain, early maps and documents, and even interactive touch screens.
“It’s a contemporary cultural expression of who we are,” said Dana Ste.Claire, director of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration. Addition-ally, the passport program will take the exhibition even further with a citywide guide to exhibitions and locations that relate and continue to tell the story of these cultures. “It will connect visitors, school students and residents to 30 plus historic sites,” Ste. Claire said.
Finally, residents of all ages and abilities are invited to take part in the final component—Ancient City Mosaic. Canvases will be available at various locations throughout St. Augustine for pickup during the call to artists next month. The inspiration for which is “St. Augustine through their eyes.”
“We want the community to help us build the exhibition,” Ste.Claire said. “It is like a giant birthday card to St. Augustine and an expression of St. Augustine culture.”
The community pieces will be displayed in the Visitor Information Center in downtown St. Augustine alongside the main exhibition starting in early April.
“This is a celebration of who we are, our culture and our special history,” said Ste.Claire. “We want to embrace it as a community.” For more information, visit www.staugustine-450.com or like the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Facebook page for reminders on the upcoming call to artists at https://www.facebook.com/450th.
by Lisa Farese
A series of tiny dots made with a paint brush tip smaller than a pinky finger in vibrant greens, blues, yellows and browns captures the eye. After a few steps back to catch a full glimpse of the 4 foot by 4 foot canvas, a child’s face emerges. In fact, nearly the entire back wall of this St. Augustine gallery is filled with these incredible faces painted in oil paints with an impressionistic flair. And just as these young faces were woven together with tiny dots of color, a painstaking labor of love that takes 40 to 60 hours each canvas, beautiful threads woven into African fabric adorn the edges of each painting, each one with unique patterns and colors brought home from Tanzania.
One can’t help but wonder who these children are. What are their names? What is their story? Well, they are Frank, John, Glory, Aneth, Mary, Rebecca, Irene, Maurin, Beatrice and Isaka to name a few, and they are among a class of 24 orphaned children in Tanzania. Here artist and photographer Jenna Alexander spent a year with the Rafiki Foundation teaching preschool and first-grade art and physical education to these 24 orphaned children, and as she left these children with newly imparted knowledge, she came home with inspiration. “They taught me more than I taught them,” Alexander said. From this knowledge, the Even Me project was born.
With a campaign on Kickstarter.com, Alexander raised the funds needed for the materials to create this series of paintings, but they didn’t start as paintings. While in Tanzania, Alexander was also able to devote a great deal of her time to photography. “There were so many beautiful faces and people there,” she said. “You can’t go out at night there, so I learned to edit photographs.”
These photographs of her students would later inspire her project. “It works for me to do different mediums and have different creative outlets,” Alexander said. “I love the social aspect of photography, but I also love the solitude of art, so I paired the two.”
This pairing of art and photography can been seen throughout her gallery. With photography including wedding, maternity and family portraits, to the Even Me paintings, to cartoon characters of couples or bridesmaids, to her naptime botanicals series and even a distillery label, her talents appear limitless.
So, as Alexander continues work on the Even Me project and prepares to show 12 of these pieces at the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center in April 2015, she hopes to eventually sell the these pieces and donate the proceeds back to the children, some of whom have even seen their completed paintings through Skype, for their college or vocational funds.
And you may want to stop by the gallery to see her work in person, for due to the unique perspective of the paintings, passersby still have much to discover.
“I don’t want to tell the whole story because we don’t know the whole story,” Alexander says when asked about this unique perspective. Neither do we. So, catch a glimpse for yourself at the Jenna Alexander Gallery located at 77 San Marco Avenue, Unit 3, or visit www.jenna-alexander.com.
St. Johns Magazine blog features articles written by & about the people, places and events of St. Johns and the surrounding communities.