Delightedly fitting double feature for Halloween


By Marilyn Delk


Although the current artists exhibiting their work are not at all spooky and their impressive output isn’t really scary, Erik Burton’s atmospheric photographs of the old Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield and Barbara Martin’s realistic thought-provoking portraits of ravens, crows, and other birds provide a fitting exhibit for the month of October when Halloween provides the theme for many events as well as home decorations, community celebrations, and parties.

Erik Burton became interested in photography as a coping mechanism for visual problems, and still finds the craft to be therapeutic for his ongoing lack of depth perception. The fascinating photographs on exhibit provide a close-up look at the old castle-like structure often used as a set for prison movies including most famously The Shawshank Redemption; additionally, the Mansfield Reformatory has become a popular attraction, luring tourists year-round, many of whom are intrigued by the possibility of encountering ghosts. Erik had additional insight into the subject for his pictures, as his father Kirt, a corrections officer, worked at the facility for three years before it was shut down in 1990.

Color saturation is manipulated to eerie effect, creating a black and white feel or a sepia look to Erik’s colored photographs. A simple closeup of a lock and chain as well as a look at a couple of old doors—one with a doorknob, the other, a naked door—are intriguing, yet ominous. However, the old “Visit Room,” although now bereft of the tables and chairs which once filled the space, looks surprisingly inviting. Photos of the original East Block project a bleak, claustrophobic mood, while a scary-looking gate turns out to have been created of plywood and fiberglass for one of the movies shot there, and is not nearly so confining as it appears.

Barbara Martin has considered herself an artist ever since she was a young child; this belief was established when she responded to one of the ubiquitous ads that ran in magazines inviting artists to enter their contests. Not long after she had sent in her drawing of Bambi, a man showed up at the door of her family’s home, trying to sell art lessons to the promising artist. Although her parents wisely rejected the salesman’s offers, Barbara was convinced that the incident proved that she was indeed an artist. However, after working as a graphic artist for fifteen years, she devoted the next 27 years to raising her two children and teaching.

In January, 2020, after finding a random piece of scratchboard in her studio, she started scratching birds, and found scratchboard to be the perfect medium for realistically rendering the beautiful creatures. Her creations always start with the antique frames she collects. “The frames often come with portraits of people who were highly thought of; I want to show birds as important beings, and elevate these portraits, showing their distinct personality in my work,” Barbara explained. And she succeeds mightily in those efforts, as each piece demonstrates the diversity of birds, even those of the same species.

She finds crows and ravens to be majestic, as demonstrated in “Royal Raven” who is one of many subjects wearing a crown. The captivating “A Murder of Crows” shows crows in the crosshairs, a play on words using the name given to a group of crows. She enjoys the names given to groupings of animals, and has also learned that a group of ravens is called an unkindness or conspiracy. In another piece with a witty title, “Resting on Her Laurels” is a delicate rendering of a laurel-crowned owl whose thoughtful eyes wisely peer back at the viewer.

Three smaller pieces, “Cooper’s Hawk,” “Superb Fairywren,” and “Which Came First​?” featuring an egg and a chicken, are creatively framed in old clock boxes with their original decorative trim integrated into and enhancing the picture. “A Pair of Caged Cockatiels” also sports a striking frame featuring bubble glass with golden cage bars painted on it, creating a realistic and charming illusion that “Was tricky to do,” according to the artist

The “Double Feature” exhibit at the Anna Bier Gallery at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall will close Oct. 30; the Gallery is open every Sunday from noon till 2 p.m. An artists’ reception honoring Erik Burton and Barbara Martin will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 7 to 8 p.m., preceding DCCA’s presentation of singer/songwriter Luke McMaster. For more information, contact Gallery Director CeCelia Rice at [email protected].

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