Springs Series painting, by Margaret Tolbert
Margaret Tolbert’s experience of Florida’s springs changed dramatically the day she donned a mask and plunked her face below the water’s lens-like surface. She says she felt like Alice, crossing through the looking glass into an alter world, where nothing was as it seemed. Up until then, springs were something Tolbert was aware of — they were often in the background at family picnics when she was growing up — but she’d never experienced them.
That first swim birthed a creative channel in her that is still fueling her paintings of Florida’s springs nearly two and a half decades later. Today, she has an impressive art portfolio inspired by places that sometimes only local Floridians know intimately. Rainbow Springs, Peacock Springs, Fanning Springs, Gilchrist Blue, Manatee Springs, Juniper Springs, Wakulla Springs, Ichetucknee Springs, Fern Hammock, Telford Springs, Wekiva Springs, Volusia Blue Springs, Cyprus Springs and Rock Springs Run — to name just a few. With the colors and light of specific springs in mind, Tolbert’s swiped and twirled her brushes over an array of large and small canvasses that have found homes in private collections, art museums and institutions all over the world.
“I’m always attracted, as an artist, to weird visual experiences,” Tolbert says. At Gilchrist Blue, she is entranced by medallions of light floating in the water, and the way the surface bends light waves to make swimming bodies look like contorted pretzels. She loves slipping below the surface, which she calls a “lens,” and staring into the springs’ dramatic caverns. At Juniper Springs, it’s the sand boils that catch her eye. At Rainbow Springs, it’s the enormous discharge power that stimulates her senses.
Springs Series depicting bubbles, by Margaret Tolbert
“Each spring has its own personality, its own characteristics that evoke different senses of place,” Tolbert says. Sometimes she floats in the water and writes snatches of free-verse poetry. Sometimes she sketches cypress knees, turtles, eelgrass or crayfish. These poems and sketches “codify” her experience at the spring and she draws upon them to produce her paintings — she does not work from photographs, which she finds to be too “flat. Continue reading