By Erika Webb
In another nod to the VIVA Florida 500 celebration, commemorating the state's 500th anniversary, Gateway Center for the Arts is calling for artists to participate in "Art Springs Eternal."
The center's first plein-air paint-out and exhibit will showcase three springs in Southwest Volusia.
Artists are invited to participate by painting on location at Blue Spring, Gemini Springs or Green Springs through Sunday, April 7. Participants are encouraged to submit up to three paintings for the exhibit, which will be at Gateway Center from April 29-June 22.
The French expression, "en plein air" translates to "in the open air" and is used to describe the act of painting outdoors -- a painting style that defines the American landscape, according to www.pbs.org.
Gateway Center Program Director Mary Waldroff said this event was inspired by the Canaveral Seashore Plein Air Paint Out, which drew close to 30 landscape artists last October.
"Ours is a little different in that we are not organizing a tightly structured paint-out," Ms. Waldroff said. "Artists can paint at any or all of the three springs. It's a way they can enjoy nature and enjoy Florida."
Gateway Center CEO Sandra Wilson said art has a duty to record and preserve.
Ms. Waldroff called Florida's springs "a unique part of our topography," adding, "If something happens to them our water shed, our drinking water are at great risk."
It's no imaginary peril.
Five decades of population growth have taken a toll on the aquifer, which feeds the state's 700 plus springs, according to www.floridasprings.org.
"The major issues impacting the health of the springs include population growth, urban sprawl, growing demand for groundwater and introduction of fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants to the spring sheds," the website reported.
Springs are ranked by magnitude, the volume of water gushing -- or trickling -- forth.
"Discharge from Florida's springs can range from less than one pint per minute (eighth magnitude) to more than 64.6 million gallons per day (first magnitude)," according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Blue Spring is a first magnitude spring; Gemini Springs, a second; and Green Springs, a third.
White Sulphur Springs on the Suwannee River was a second magnitude spring, calculated to have issued 47 million gallons of water a day. In 1990 it ceased flowing completely, according to a coquina-zine.com article by Matt Keene.
Excessive withdrawals for consumption were blamed.
Early this year concerned citizens, activists and legislators gathered at Wekiwa Springs State Park for Speak-Up Wekiwa -- a rally sponsored by Florida Conservation Coalition, League of Women Voters, St Johns Riverkeeper and Friends of the Wekiva River.
Speakers, including former Gov. Bob Graham, Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine as well as legislators Darren Soto and Linda Stewart demanded action on behalf of the jeopardized springs.
Two days after the rally, on Feb. 18, Florida Sen. Darren Soto filed Senate Bill 978: a bill identical to the Springs Revival Act, which would require the water management districts to identify imperiled springs by Oct. 1 and develop 5-year plans for recovery, Mr. Keene reported.
"Our purpose of this (event) is to get people to appreciate nature and the beauty it represents to all of us," Ms. Waldroff said.
A passion for art is naturally accompanied by a passion for the inspiration behind it. Ms. Waldroff and Ms. Wilson want to increase public awareness and avoid permanent loss of inspiring habitat.
"Change in landscape is usually a subtle event with the exception of flooding or other dynamic of nature," Ms. Wilson said. "From day to day, we usually fail to see change, but preserving a snapshot of the present on canvas or in a sketch allows the public to enjoy the beauty of the springs as they are now and preserves the moment to look back and see where change has taken place."
On April 7, the last night of the paint-out, there will be a wet room exhibit at Blue Spring's Thursby House.
Ms. Waldroff explained there are crucial moments of quickly changing light that accompany the setting sun.
"An artist has to be quick and paint rapidly to capture that moment in lighting before the sun sets," she said. "Often they're using oils which don't dry as fast (as other paints) so they can bring their easels to the wet room (at Thursby), let them dry and the public can come look."
Blending art and impending history is more natural than one might think.
"Without these reminders of change, we can only verbalize 'remember when,'" Ms. Wilson said. "With the enjoyment of art we often forget that it has other characteristics such as recording history.
It's even possible that, over a decade ago, an unwitting painter in White Springs may have brushed onto a canvas some lazy clouds, passively drifting over the scene below as the water gurgled into silence.
Artist participants in the paint out will be admitted free to Blue Springs to paint. There is no charge for entry at Gemini Springs and Green Springs. Those attending the wet room exhibit at Thursby House will be charged regular admission to Blue Springs State Park.
For more information about "Art Springs Eternal" plein air paint out and exhibition, visit www.gatewaycenterforthearts.com.