Proceeds from an art show opening Friday in Ashland will go toward efforts to clean up a massive oil spill threatening the Gulf of Mexico.
Cheryl D. Garcia's "Steeling the Beauty" will run through May at Jega Gallery in the Railroad District. Garcia creates metal sculptures with natural themes and has a special place in her heart — and her art — for birds.
"The survival of birds and the preservation of habitat is so close to my heart," Garcia said. "To have something of this magnitude happen in the Gulf of Mexico is such a devastating thing."
An undersea oil well has been releasing 200,000 gallons a day since an explosion on April 20 on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and started the massive leak.
The oil slick created by the spill covers about 2,000 square miles and is heading toward the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The slick is fast approaching Breton National Wildlife Refuge off the coast of Louisiana, and many other sensitive coastal wildlife, fishery and bird breeding areas are also in danger.
"It's affecting everything from marine life to birds to the shrimp fishermen," Garcia said.
At least two birds already have been found in the oil slick, and officials suspect more will be discovered, according to The Associated Press. Twenty-nine dead turtles washed up on the Mississippi shore in the past few days, but a link between the spill and their deaths has not been found.
To help with bird rescue rehabilitation, Garcia will donate 20 percent of the proceeds from the Jega Gallery show to the National Audubon Society, which is spearheading efforts to protect wildlife in the area, along with the National Wildlife Federation, the Alabama Coastal Foundation and Save Our Seabirds.
Garcia grew up in the four corners area of Colorado, where she frustrated her mother by constantly bringing big, rusty pieces of metal into the house.
"From a very early age I was interested in metal art and metal work," she said. "Some kids like sticks and rocks, some kids like rusty metal."
Her mother made her take the scraps out of the house, but allowed Garcia to use a long section of fence to display them. As she got older she became interested in learning how to connect and manipulate the metal. She went to art school in Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and later learned industrial welding skills at Vocational-Technical College in Cortez, Colo.
"I was making logging forks and underground mining equipment," Garcia said. "It wasn't where my soul was, but every weld I put down with my heart."
After she made enough as a professional welder, Garcia began to return to her artistic roots.
One of Garcia's first art shows was in Ashland in 2003 at the Aalta Gallery, now Davis and Cline Gallery.
She's lived in the Rogue Valley for 13 years, eight of them in Ashland. She moved to Jacksonville five years ago, where she opened her studio, the Great Metal Works.
Garcia has been doing well the past few years selling commissioned art, and hasn't had as much time to put together shows. Her success also has enabled her to begin to focus more on creating public sculptures.
"Watching people's reactions to kinetic and beautiful pieces is really uplifting, and to tie that into the environment is exciting," she said.
All Garcia's raw material is recycled and reused metal, much of it obtained locally at White City Metals.
"I must have close to 30 tons around my studio," she said.
"Steeling the Beauty" will run through the month, with an artist's reception set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 7, at the gallery, 625 A St. For information see www.jega4art.com.
Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.