By Erika Webb
A mere corner with favorable lighting is not enough. The world, or at least Volusia County, is Margaret Schnebly Hodge's art studio.
Yes, she stands in one spot and paints, but through the years Ms. Hodge has done so much more to create, promote and coordinate art viewing opportunities and funding avenues to carry its varied forms and messages. Her goal has been to enhance people's everyday lives. Art doesn't have to be tucked away in a museum.
But it belongs there, too.
Her exhibit "Breaking Free: Dark Energy, Dark Matter" is on display at the Daytona State College News-Journal Center.
"Long appreciated as an abstract figurative and landscape painter using a dark and rich palette and with a philosophical preoccupation with concepts of physical and emotional restraint, confinement and a striving for a sense of freedom, Margaret Schnebly Hodge has traveled a long and very interesting path of achievement in her career to date which can be viewed in the variety of the artwork presented in this exhibition," wrote Gary R. Libby, Director Emeritus, Museum of Arts and Sciences of Daytona Beach in an exhibit essay.
Ms. Hodge grew up in Daytona Beach and discovered self-expression through art at Mainland High School.
She won a Daytona Beach Art League scholarship to attend Daytona State College and earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Florida School of Fine Arts.
Ms. Hodge also studied at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach in independent master style workshops and, in 2005, she won a Florida Arts Council Enhancement Grant.
Working for Volusia County government for 29 years, the artist's varied roles always have been seized opportunities to create visual enhancement in public places by adding and by subtracting.
As special project manager, she helped facilitate the grass-roots initiative ECHO program, which provides grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreation purposes.
She was assigned to design and implement the county's recycling program as a brand new concept after Florida's Solid Waste Management Act, passed in 1988, required each county to reduce its solid waste disposal by 30 percent through waste reduction and recycling.
As the county's coastal activity manager, Ms. Hodge manages contracts, working with concessionaires and contractors to keep Volusia's beaches clean and she designs visual enhancements for coastal public features and facilities.
She started out in what she calls the commercial world, working as an art director.
"Someone approached me to work in (Volusia County) Community Information," Ms. Hodge said. "I had a wise person advising me and I took that job."
She started out creating newsletters and brochures.
"It sort of evolved beyond what I thought it would be," she said. "I was very lucky to get the job with the county, the different jobs, because I got to deal with so many groups of people."
Open to the multiple perspectives gathered from those meetings, she has grown as an artist and as a person.
"I learned a lot from people," Ms. Hodge said.
"Breaking Free: Dark Energy, Dark Matter" speaks to existential yearnings. The abstract paintings simultaneously cover up and reveal.
As with energy, which can neither be created nor destroyed, Ms. Hodge said her brush strokes are about the eternal cycle of all things visible and not visible.
"Whenever I paint, it's a process of growing and dying," she explained, "yet nothing in my painting really dies. It might be hidden behind an opaque or a translucent layer of paint that changes its appearance, but the initial paint I have applied affects my final surface. Although its original state is hidden from the eye, it still lives."
There is a saying: "We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are."
That applies here.
"People would say, 'boy, your paintings are dark,'" Ms. Hodge said. "I would say, 'no, you're seeing it as dark.'"
Using the Big Bang Theory as a point of reference, she said, "Darkness is not death. Darkness is life, where it begins."
The paint hidden beneath what now meets the eye started the finished piece.
It's the stardust.
"I've read we are made of stardust," Ms. Hodge said. "There's a connectivity ... I inherently knew all my life. I don't believe I stand alone. I'm part of my ancestry."
An extremely curious and open minded individual, she's not married to one idea.
This particular collection just happened to be inspired by one viewpoint.
"From the darkness life comes," she said. "Some science tells us life was created in the explosion of stars; and where the initial matter and energy came from is a personal decision."
She did not set out to paint representations of the universe.
"I don't want to be an illustrator," she explained. "I want to be in the mix, like an element of the cosmos producing the work, a minor piece of the whole."
Listed among her too-numerous-to-mention-all professional activities is Art in the Sunshine, a 2007, 20-mile road project featuring 300 art works by 100 artists installed along Williamson Boulevard, LPGA Boulevard and State Road 415.
What she loved most about that project was the resurrected enthusiasm experienced by participants.
"Artists came from Jacksonville and south Florida. Some were recovering from illness," she said. "Some inactive artists said the project inspired them to do art again. That was one of the unexpected pleasures."
Ms. Hodge also was founder of and participating artist in Freedom Field, a 2009 project featuring 50 art works by 30 artists that were displayed in and donated to the Emory L. Bennett Veterans Home in Daytona Beach.
Her seemingly endless accomplishments and affiliations can be viewed in their entirety at her website, margarethodgeart.com.
Breaking Free: Dark Energy, Dark Matter will be on display through Aug. 29 at 221 N. Beach St., Daytona Beach. Meet the artist at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 3, Wednesday, July 9, or Thursday, Aug. 7. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday through July 24, then 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.