A step into the AQUIFERious: Enter the Springs exhibit will make visitors feel like they are plunging into an underwater grotto.
Gainesville’s Thomas Center Galleries are hosting the exhibition from Oct. 1 until Jan. 6. It features artwork, photographs and maps of Florida’s springs.
Margaret Ross Tolbert curated the exhibition, and has her own artwork featured in the gallery. The exhibit is based on Tolbert’s book, AQUIFERious.
Tolbert said she has been a painter for as long as she can remember, but interest in the springs began in the 1980s when she went on a trip to Ginnie Springs with a friend.
When she saw what was underneath the surface, she said everything changed for her.
“I started painting the springs, and it went immediately from little tiny paintings to big ones where you could kind of feel like you were inside the scene,” she said.
Her largest painting in the exhibition takes up almost an entire wall, measuring 33 feet by 8 feet, said Russell Etling, the cultural affairs programs coordinator at the Thomas Center and organizer of the exhibition.
The large paintings give the exhibition an immersive feeling.
“I hope visitors feel like they are entering the springs,” said Etling.
Tolbert typically brings her canvases to the springs in a canoe so she can paint exactly what she sees underwater.
“There’s something about actually reacting to nature,” Tolbert said. “It brings something different out. It’s like you’re having a real conversation.”
She said that she has started to notice that there is a lot more algae in the springs now than she first began painting them.
“I just sing the praises of springs,” she said, “but in my work, sort of like the Picture of Dorian Gray, it started showing that they were changing.”
She said there are fewer and fewer springs that she wants to paint because of higher algae levels. If a spring gets too choked up by algae, it doesn’t inspire her paintings.
“It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s because of practices that people think won’t have an effect — and they have an effect,” Tolbert said. “I’d like to think that people think about the springs and the aquifer and think about what we have. It’s a world treasure — it’s unbelievable.”
Underwater photographer Jill Heinerth’s work is also featured in the exhibition.
“We know more about space than we do about the underwater portions of our planet,” she said.
Heinerth said she feels she has a responsibility to bring back photographs from her dives that make people think about the world beneath their feet.
“It goes beyond pretty pictures — it’s about connecting people with this very unique environment that their sustenance flows through and that they need to learn about and protect,” she said.
Editor’s note: Tolbert has been a supporter of WUFT’s membership team, including offering an image for the annual membership poster provided as a premium for supporters of WUFT’s business operations.