March 26, 2003 – Friday's opening at Walsh Metal Works Gallery is of new work by St. Croix artist and naturalist Toni Lance.
The solo show, Lance's largest to date, includes some new experimental approaches within her familiar themes of St. Croix birds and wildlife.
It represents an opportunity, according to publicity, "to see the maturing virtuosity of an experienced local artist take flight in new directions."
Lance will be on hand to discuss her work at the opening reception, from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday.
In addition to being well-known as a watercolorist, Lance is recognized as an expert on local bird and wildlife rehabilitation. A 23-year resident of the South Shore, she is often called upon by the government's Fish and Wildlife Division, the St. Croix Animal Shelter and local veterinarians to help care for injured wild birds.
At her home, in an unpopulated area, are large walk-in flight cages where a variety of species, from tiny finches to pelicans, can be found convalescing at any given time. Even a few iguanas have found refuge while their injuries healed.
As a full-time artist, "I'm home all the time," Lance notes, "so it's possible for me to do this. Between sections of a painting — while a painting is drying — I can feed or bathe a bird, or clean a cage."
Lance often works as part of a rehabilitation team with Dr. Paul Hess and his veterinary staff who perform intricate surgeries, set tiny bones, do diagnostic testing and otherwise treat injured wildlife. "The idea is to get the animal to a point where it can function, and then release it," Lance says, with the satisfaction of having successfully returned dozens of birds to the wild.
Her passion for wild birds and her studied observations about them began in childhood in northern California, where her parents were enthusiastic bird watchers. Her formal training prepared her for both her art career and her care-giving avocation. She studied wildlife management, photography and medical illustration, learning about falconry and the care of injured raptors along the way.
Lance is known for her boldly composed, highly detailed images of local wildlife and birds, people and island scenes. Some of the paintings in her new show will feature a degree of departure from these conventions, however, reflecting a new "looseness and lightness of spirit" according to publicity. Large works, for example, capture the humor and quirkiness in the unblinking gaze of a pelican or the sleepy-eyed grin of an iguana. But above all, the artist has respect for her subjects.
Regarding her experimental pieces, Lance offers these clues: "You can't fully control watercolor, but I've developed a certain level of confidence with it."
In a bird painting, then, feathers blur into small abstractions within a larger portrait. In a spirited study of two cocks fighting, the imagery is loosely rendered and gestural; yet carefully composed and vibrantly colored. Several paintings in a series explore elements of the minimalist, graphic composition of Asian scroll paintings, while the artist maintains her signature style of photorealism.
"Most people underestimate the intelligence of birds," she says. "I work with them so much, I can see them express emotion." That, however, does not inspire sentimentality on her part. "My work doesn't take itself too seriously," she says.
The Walsh Metal Works Gallery is located in Peter's Rest behind the Coca-Cola plant. There will be complimentary wine and cheese at the Friday reception. The show will hang through April 13. Galley hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment. For more information, call 773-8169.

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