To celebrate the life of late artist Gale Bennett who passed away in 2008, a group of local artists, many of whom were students of Bennett's, will display Audubon-inspired works at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor & Education Center.
The exhibit is curated by Cello Bennett, widow of Gale, and two of his students, Marcy Calkins and Jane Hudson. The works will be on display in the auditorium March 7 through April 28.
Other exhibitors displaying works in the "Audubon Inspiration" exhibit include Pat Dunn, Jane Geronime, Marilyn Hedlund, Sheila Hoen, Teri Mills, Caroline Nuckolls and Alicia Schmidt. Cello said over 30 pieces will be hung in the auditorium.
Marcy Calkins and Jane Hudson with their paintings that will be on display at “Ding” Darling from March 7 to April 28.
Before Bennett passed, his wife said he became inspired by John James Audubon after picking up one of his books in a second hand store.
"He brought this book home and he's looking at all these pictures and he said 'This is going to be my next exhibit.' He wasn't planning on painting copies of Audubon's art he just wanted to them as his jumping-off point. His avian landscapes would have been much more abstract, that's just the kind of painter he was," his wife said.
Bennett was a prominent artist in the community before his passing almost nine years ago. He taught in the area for a number of years at the Cape Coral Arts Studio, the Alliance for the Arts and BIG ARTS.
It was at BIG ARTS where he came to know Calkins and Hudson. Hudson said that what she learned from Bennett has stuck with her throughout her life.
"I think every artist who painted with him took away something personal and something different. The negative and positive shapes that's something I never paid attention to and from my first classes with Gale Bennett, he said 'Look at the greens and look carefully. Right out that door, you will see hundreds of different colors of green.' I've never go anywhere anymore without thinking about that. He was a fantastic teacher and a big influence in my work," Hudson said.
What Calkins took away from Bennett was learning to use a limited palette and composition. She said that he divided his time between Giverny France and the US. Calkins and Hudson were both able to study with him in France.
"There were many of us who took the opportunity to go to Giverny. He had a relationship with the Monet Institute to get his artists in the gardens to paint. A lot of people did that if not once, but two or three times. When he lived in France, he would work in the summer in addition to teaching and hosting people there. He would work on a series of paintings and show them at galleries in France. The next series was going to be a tribute to John James Audubon. Audubon had such fascinating compositions. Audubon worked with the science of the birds but also the art of presenting artwork for humans to look at. He really had that cross-over and Gale respected that and he wanted to be playful with it," Calkins said.
Visitors can view the exhibit in the Refuge Visitor & Education Center auditorium every day, excluding certain holidays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Since the refuge also uses the auditorium for other events, the staff advises visitors to call (239) 472-1100 before planning a visit.