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Curating the Cofrin Art Center:
Bringing Community Together

I have had the honor of serving the community as curator and co-curator of the beautiful Cofrin Gallery at Oak Hall School since 2006.  However, the gallery started with humbler beginnings in 1995 presenting public exhibitions of local artists' work in a smaller art gallery on campus. 

In 2006, the Cofrin Gallery was constructed when Dr. David Cofrin generously donated funding for a new Art Center and Gallery. Over the years, we had numerous exciting exhibitions which examined many themes that brought together artists, musicians, scientists, poets, academics, and the public. The Cofrin Art Center soon became a creative rallying point for the community and one of our city's premiere art spaces.

 

All combined we have displayed more than 100 public exhibitions of local, regional, national, and international artists. Since its inception, the Cofrin Gallery has worked to serve and enhance our curriculum and introduce diverse members of the creative community to our students. My colleagues and I are proud to have had the opportunity to present many dynamic, public, educational events and creative opportunities to help culturally enhance the spirit of our city.

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"Kesl and the Collaborators" Exhibition

Select Exhibition Highlights 
The Cofrin Gallery is Proud to Present:
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March 11 - April 22, 2022

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*Featuring the Soil Memorial:   See this article for more information.

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January 2022, “Bard & Broadside — text, image, truth & reconciliation” is a learning exhibition presented by the Oak Hall School’s Black Student Union and is installed during February for Black History Month in the Cofrin Arts Center on the Oak Hall School campus.  Via historical archives, poetry, poster “broadsides” and image documentation, the exhibition directs a lens on civil rights history in the Gainesville community and vicinity, as well as examine the integration of Alachua County public schools and the black student experience at the University of Florida during the 1970s. 

  Featuring print works by: 

Alachua County Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson and 

UF Art Education Lecturer Patrick Grigsby. 

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How is truth & reconciliation taking shape in our own backyard? 

The two artists collaborate on text and image workshops, focused on poetry, printmaking, and the American experience.  From handwritten poems to printed posters, students are asked to investigate creatively what they know about their own community’s story about race and civil rights, in contrast to national events since 2020.  

This learning exhibit invited visitors to assimilate news articles, printed images, and area histories into new creative works with text and image via storytelling, poetry, drawing, and printmaking, featuring prints from the Oak Hall Black Student Union.    

Featured artists and contributing organizations include:  

•Excerpts from the Matheson History Museum’s exhibit:

“We’re Tired of Asking: Black Thursday and Civil Rights at the University of Florida” Matheson History Museum online exhibit link 

Alachua County Truth & Reconciliation Initiative 

•The A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center 

•The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Special •Collections 

People’s Paper Co-Op 

•Lois Mailou Jones 

•Sam Cornish 

•Gainesville Regional Transit System  

•Oak Hall School alumni artist Neilah Lizwelicha and  

•Current Oak Hall art student Asher Dobrin. 

  


 

Scenes from the Poetry / Printmaking workshop: 

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•The Black Student Union participated in this exhibition by creating a collaborative piece of art rooted in Poetry and Printmaking with E. Stanley Richardson and Patrick Grigsby.

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January 14 - February 28, 2022

WUFT's "Artistry in Motion" is a series on PBS TV that highlights the work and life of several of our region's most prominent artists, musicians, and performers. Nearly 30 artists were chosen to be highlighted through this TV series and I am happy to say I was one of them!  https://www.wuft.org/artistry-in-motion/  While watching the other artists in this series, the idea to invite all of them to participate in an exhibition was the foundation of this show. On Friday, November 5, 2021, we held a joyous reception at our gallery to celebrate the artists and sponsors who made this series and show possible.  It was a community-enriching experience.  The exhibition ran through December 10, 2021.

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Libertad (“Freedom”)
by Jesus “Seck37” Martinez and Carrie Elizabeth

9/21- Libertad explored Freedom as a driving force of the human experience throughout history; the various kinds of Freedom including mental, moral, ethical, social, and political; and the importance of Freedom in expressions of creativity and original thought.

Creative couple Jesus Martinez and Carrie Elizabeth Martinez highlighted the concept of freedom from an Afro Cuban-American perspective and discussed contemporary events in Cuba at a meeting of our school's Black Student Union.

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The Versitile Kimono:
from the collection of Martin McKellar

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This fun exhibition celebrated the culture of Japan through a collection of Kimonos assembled by Martin McKellar. After custom blacksmithing the hooks for the show with Martin, we were ready to hang the Kimonos on display for all to enjoy!

 

The Japanese ornamented their clothing with subtle sophistication. Their exceptional techniques for figurative art allowed them to express their status, their beliefs, and their hopes for the future...all on the clothes that they wore. This collection of Japanese kimonos was made for men, women, boys, and girls that spanned a period of 100 years. 

 

The reception also featured a performance by Oak Hall’s own Taiko ensemble, “Tsubasa", and everyone was invited to dress up for the occasion in celebration.

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“Southern Crossroads:
The Birthplace of the Blues”

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One of my personal favorite exhibitions was “Southern Crossroads: The Birthplace of the Blues”, a celebration of a musically important art form that has become famous around the world. The Blues were born of the poverty and hardships endured by African Americans living in the South in the first half of the 20th century. Musicians were mostly self-taught and in the early days often played on homemade instruments like a cigar box guitar. This exhibition celebrated the spirit of these musicians and artists. It also honored Willie Green, blues musician, and recipient of the Florida Folklife Lifetime Achievement Award, for dedicating his life to carrying on the Delta-Blues tradition.

"Color Theory":
A Celebration of Color in Art!

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Color is an essential element of creativity. It takes center stage in a personal way for each of us in the way we express ourselves. Color provides inspiration to many visual artists and their love of color was featured at this unique and inspiring exhibition! This show featured paintings, photographs, and installations by these colorful artists: Gary Borse, Tyler Pierce Hale, Blake Harrison, Donna Drake, Yvonne Ferguson, Terrence Ho, Frank Barone, Robert Ponzio, Wendy James, and Kate Würstlin.

"Stetson Kennedy: A Life of Purpose"

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This exhibition followed the arc of Gainesville resident, Stetson Kennedy’s life of accomplishment, and the people that he collaborated with as he spoke truth to power. He was the author of eight books, among them Palmetto Country, Klan Unmasked, The Jim Crow Guide, Southern Exposure and After Appomattox: How the South Won the War.

He infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan and collaborated with a diverse universe of people such as Zora Neale Hurston, Woody Guthrie, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sarte, and Alan Lomax. Kennedy was an author, folklorist, environmentalist, labor activist, and human rights activist who won numerous national and international awards. He was active in all of these areas until his death in 2011 at the age of 94. He was a great man and a great social justice warrior. He will be missed.

The Metal Show:
Forged, Poured, and Welded

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"The Metal Show: Forged, Poured and Welded" 25 Blacksmiths and metal artists were represented in this exciting exhibition! The reception featured live demonstrations! It was a great event!

"One Mountain Many Paths:
The Art of Spirituality"

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"One Mountain Many Paths: The Art of Spirituality" was one of our proudest exhibitions. The intention of this show was to unify our community. It was quickly organized in direct response to the threats of Gainesville's infamous "Quran Burning Preacher".  This exhibition was centered around a peace pole-mounted in steel salvaged from the World Trade Center wreckage and featured work by artists of every faith, (and non-faith). 

Our guest speaker was Vasudha Narayanan a Distinguished Professor of the Department of Religion, Director of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra) at the University of Florida, and a past President of the American Academy of Religion. Her inspirational gallery talk explored the power that the arts can have to transcend culture and history.

At a time when so much negative attention was being brought to our city, we were proud to come together to make a unified, creative stand against intolerance.  

“Bulla Cubana: Cinco Naif Artists”

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Bulla Cubana is a celebration of arts and culture, promoting the exchange of ideas and inspiration between Cuba and the North Central Florida region. Traveling from Cuba, Nancy Reyes, Sandra Dooley, Guillermo Estrada, Frank Hart and Roberto Gil exhibited their Naïf work at the Cofrin Gallery. Scarce resources in Cuba cause artists to use their creativity to master their crafts. By using fabric and buttons, Susan Dooley creates paintings depicting moments shared between family and friends, while Frank Hart uses wood and structural pieces to create the Cuban flag. This show allowed viewers to experience the bright, bold and colorful art of Nancy Reyes and Roberto Gil, and the moving paintings of Guillermo Estrada.

“Look Up”: The Kite Art
of Tim Elverston and Ruth Whiting
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Look Up was a fun show about the sensation of flying. Kites are instruments of the wind. They are sensors that can connect us directly to our atmosphere. These are artifacts of playing, dancing, and sculpting in the sky. This work is both retrospective, and a look to the future. Showing more than 20 years of development, these original designs inspired by the natural world have evolved around Elverston's and Whiting's constant studies of the wind.

After long apprenticeships with two top kite design studios, Jordan Air Kites and GuildWorks Flight Studio in Beverly MA, Tim Elverston met artist Ruth Whiting. Together Elverston & Whiting founded WindFire Designs, a handmade technology company and fine arts studio. Their innovations in wind arts have been recognized and shown around the globe for their beautiful styles, unique designs and refined systems that make their work possible. http://windfiredesigns.com

 ¡Celebrate the Santeros!: Selections from the Hector Puig Collection of Puerto Rican Art
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The Cofrin Gallery was proud to be part of a community collaboration of exhibitions, which simultaneously celebrate an outstanding collection of Puerto Rican art! Represented were a variety of Puerto Rican art forms, most notably a collection of small wooden sculptures created in the Santos Tradition.  These carved wooden Saints have held tremendous historic and spiritual value for the people of Puerto Rico since the 16th century, and have been particularly important for use in rural home altars.

We were also pleased to welcome guest artists, José Luis Peña Burgos, Orlando Luque, Xavier Colón Marrero, and Eric Saunders to our gallery where these “Santeros” demonstrated their carving processes and discussed their work.

“Southern Soul:
Unchained and Expressed” 
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Southern Soul: Unchained and Expressed was a survey of contemporary African American artists in our region. For many years these artists struggled to make their art and achieve recognition. Historically, in public schools attended by African Americans students, art instruction was not available. Art supplies were not locally available nor affordable. Even so, artists innovated and persevered to record important moments in the life of their communities.

The Harlem Renaissance changed forever the position of the African American artist in society by elevating all of the art forms that the artists of those times were working in; music, theater, literature and the visual arts. The art created by members of the Harlem Renaissance eventually spread throughout the world. Florida generated its own African American art genre of landscape painters known as "The Highwaymen." Today many African American artists are still largely self-taught, but a growing number are academically trained.

Southern Soul: Unchained and Expressed presents seven visual artists from this region who work in a wide range of styles, from naïve to academic. African American Artists Ayleen Harris, Emmitt Williams, Rootman, Ernest Lee,Ruben Wilkenson, Turbado and Roy McClendon, Jr. contributed their art for this exhibition.

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Lennie Kesl: A Lifetime of Art
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Lennie Kesl was perhaps the most beloved artist in our region and this was one of my favorite shows. Luckily before his passing, we were honored to have him show his work and collaborations numerous times in our gallery. He also attended nearly every opening reception we had to encourage and support every artist. Lennie’s work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern art in NYC and he was a Jazz singer who sang with the best singers and musicians of his era! He was a great friend and a great artist. I really miss Lennie. May he rest in peace.

This video documents the exhibition, “Kesl and the Collaborators"at the Cofrin Gallery. Lennie loved to make art with his friends and fellow artists. This exhibition celebrated his collaborations and proved what a creative and positive impact he had on our arts community. The exhibition featured collaborations with such renowned artists as: John Tilton (clay), Rudy Strohschein (glass), Sandy Matasick, (silver) John Patterson Wood, Colquit Tanner (clay), Gary Haskin (clay), David Bell (metal), and more!

2006-The Cofrin Gallery’s First Exhibition:
Annie Pais and Bill Schaaf
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Our first exhibition in the Cofrin Gallery was by two of our region's most popular artists, Annie Pais and Bill Schaaf. View this video to learn how our gallery came to be. 

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Experience Curating over 100 Exhibitions
at the Cofrin Gallery!

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