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Columbus artist Florence Neal comes home

Florence Neal has tried for years to show her work in her hometown of Columbus.

I’ve always said it’s hard for people in your own hometown to appreciate your talent. There’s a long list of singer/songwriters who have moved away from Columbus and claim their adopted hometowns as their own.

That’s not always the case. Keni Thomas is originally from Gainesville, Fla., but now calls Columbus his hometown. But he’s the only one I can think of who does that.

Artists, it seems, are a little different. Even when they move away, they come back to Columbus and work and show their work.

For some reason, Florence hasn’t had the same kind of luck. She’s not complaining. She was just stating the fact.

When the Columbus Public Library opened, an exhibit of her block prints went up. That was a good start.

Now, she’s an artist in residence in the Columbus State University department of art.

She graduated from Auburn University in 1976 and moved to New York City right after getting her diploma, “15 days before Jimmy Carter was inaugurated.”

Florence made me laugh when she recounted stories of trying to find jobs in the big city.

“One time I had an interview with a woman like the boss in ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’ I answered a question with ‘Yes, ma’am.’ That was the end of that.”

So what’s a starving artist to do? She and her ex-husband found a space in Brooklyn and renovated the space. They bid on the building in 1984, closed on it in 1987 and took another six years to renovate the space.

Other artists turned their noses up.

“People told us, ‘no serious artist would work in Brooklyn.’ We were some of the first.”

One neighbor is Mike Howard of Phenix City.

The two southern artists connected and commiserated.

Now, the Kentler Gallery houses some of the best works on paper and drawings of young artists, some of them beginning to get noticed.

It became an official nonprofit in 2003.

Since Florence, the director and co-founder of the gallery is basically a one-woman operation, while she’s here this week, she’s got a young woman from Columbus, Sally Mize, watching the gallery. Sally, Florence said, came to her as an intern and stayed.

While Florence is here, she’s planning to create block prints of the Chattahoochee River. She wants to interview people about what the river means to them. She’ll be on the Chattahoochee Riverwalk near the CSU campus from 9 a.m.-noon today, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.

The taped interviews will be part of her exhibition, which she hopes to bring back to the Illges Gallery when she’s done.

So head on down to the river and talk to Florence. You’ll find she’s a very interesting woman.

Arts on the River winners

Last weekend’s Arts on the River organizers must have been pleased with the weather and the turn-out, which was helped by Boots on Broadway and the Saturday morning market.

Judge Jim Thomas of Sautee Nacoochee chose these artists as the winners this year.

Best in Show: Keith Newby of Dothan, watercolor

First Place: Len Jagoda of Waverly Hall, bronze sculpture

Second place: Charles Willis of Columbus, watercolor

Third place: Arlaine Morrison of Suwanee, watercolor

Merit Awards: Bobby Jones of Columbus, acrylics; Lee Brantley of Columbus, photography

Honorable Mentions: Annette Gibney of Columbus, fine art jewelry; Michelle Hardwick of Phenix City, watercolor; Elsue Prather of Dothan, watercolor; Lauren Wilson of Columbus, clay

Congratulations to all!

Sandra Okamoto, sokamoto@ledger- enquirer.com or 706-571-8580

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