The Firelands Association for the Visual Arts is an integral part of the arts community at Oberlin, offering art classes for both children and adults as well as organizing curated invitational shows, photography shows, and off-site exhibits of area artists among many other events. This fall, FAVA is showcasing two Ohio artists, Martha Gallagher Michael and Lisa Schonberg, until Oct. 31. Both artists have been placed side-by-side in the exhibition for their shared representation of nature in their illustrations. While nature is a common motif between the two artists, the two creators bring their subject to life in distinct and unique ways.
Martha Gallagher Michael is a professor of special education and art education at Capital University. Her exhibit at FAVA, ReCollections, is a selection of pieces with two major themes: coming back to pieces she worked on in 2007, and repurposing various items in order to create new art. In 2007, Michael made a series of large, mixed-media pieces of birch trees using mediums including ink and newspaper. These are featured in ReCollections alongside a new series of small, square pieces. These include elements of her other works, painted and cut printing plates, and cellophane tape with images on it. She also includes words in some of these pieces. Her art style is playful, and the same can be said of her process.
“It’s a very organic process for me,” Michael said. “I see what looks right, what also might have content impact, and that’s how I create.” She also likes to get creative with names, and her art has titles like “One Nation Under… ”;“Art and Metaphysics”; and “Lost in a Crowd Except for My Face Paint.” Michael focuses on prints of leaves along with her birch tree motif.
Lisa Schonberg, whose teaching focuses on printmaking, is an adjunct professor at Notre Dame College and Baldwin Wallace University. She also teaches at Zygote Press in Cleveland, where she has a studio. Schonberg’s body of artwork is comprised mostly of prints. She makes her own blocks either by hand in her own studio or through computer programs and laser cutting at Case Western Reserve University’s Sears think[box]. She rarely does “editioning,” the process by which printmakers recreate the same design multiple times. Instead, she favors making something new every time. “Most of my images are one of a kind,” she commented. Schonberg says she is “obsessed with patterns,” and it certainly shows in her work. Her collection Water, Earth, Wind is primarily inspired by topographical, wind, and water current maps. Much of her other work is influenced by places in nature she has visited, as well as various coral formations. She calls herself a “frustrated environmentalist,” and her art is “an homage to the earth.”
While both Michael and Schonberg share nature as a muse, they have very different approaches and styles. Michael’s work is fun and playful, while Schonberg’s is more methodical. Michael uses so much mixed media that some of her work is even reminiscent of collage. Most of her pieces are colorful and inundated with intricate details. Schonberg’s work, on the other hand, is more measured. Many of her works are monochromatic, and some have no colors at all. The printmaking process leaves intricate details of ink on paper, making the patterns she uses unique. Michael said she “plays,” while Schonberg described her creative process as experimentation. Jean Kondo Weigl, one of the curators of this exhibition, recalled the initial trouble she faced in arranging their work, as the two artists’ styles can be strikingly disparate. But despite using diverse approaches, the two artists share the element of the natural world in their works, which makes them a great duo. “We thought these two artists would make a good combination because of the commonality of their interest in nature,” Weigl said. The birch trees and the prints inspired by leaves and topographical maps complement each other well.
Michael summed up another shared characteristic that brings these two exhibits together: “It’s all sort of connected to printmaking.” Though both artists use different aspects of printmaking in their art, the fact that they are both operating in the same tradition builds a continuity into the display. Seeing the cut-up plates used for printmaking alongside framed, abstract prints shows that though two artists can start off with the same techniques and themes, they can diverge in any number of ways.
Though the artists have their differences, each piece plays effortlessly off the next. The collection is eclectic and colorful, and has something for every nature lover to enjoy.