Local female artists and authors empower and entertain, one piece at a time

Our city is full of creative individuals with minds of all kinds. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with six female artists and authors whose creative minds provided insightful takes on what artistic success means to them, and how it can be achieved right here in Gainesville.

Meet writer Cynthia Barnett

Cynthia Barnett, an award-winning journalist and author of three books, has an impressive portfolio with work featured in National Geographic, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others. Barnett’s very first book won the Florida Book Awards’ gold medal for best nonfiction and was named one of the top 10 books that every Floridian should read.

Barnett’s work and interests focus on water and climate worldwide, which stems from the education she received while obtaining a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in environmental history from the University of Florida.

In terms of living in Gainesville, Barnett claims the city has played an integral part in helping her find success.

“I am inspired by this place and its urban forest, surrounding springs, afternoon rains, and the color of the sky,” Barnett said. “I did not realize the extent to which that sense of place empowers my work until I tried moving to Savannah and writing from there. I can live anywhere and did enjoy living all over when I was younger, but now for life and writing, I need to live here.”

Meet artist Marilyn Gray

Local artist Marilyn Gray has had artwork and manuscript books exhibited at the Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. and has books featured in the Jaffe Collection at Florida Atlantic University. These successes, Gray believes, originate from an early appreciation for Asian art and calligraphy as well as an introductory calligraphy class in 1988 following a move to Australia.

“With my background in teaching taking a hiatus, I was lucky to be able to go into a new field,” Gray said. “By combining lettering arts and watermedia, I believe I can contribute a special voice to my work.”

Gray works with ink, watercolor and acrylic, and her style tends toward a blend of realism and abstract. Her latest interest is in presenting alphabetical letters in unique and compelling ways.

In 2006, Gray and her family moved to Gainesville, which she has found to be a positive place for artists.

“I have been welcomed by many people, and that feeling of welcome has allowed me to become involved in the community,” Gray said.

Meet writer Lola Haskins

Lola Haskins, author of twelve collections of poetry and three of prose, learned to read when she was three. Though she loved books, especially poetry, since the beginning, she did not begin putting pen to paper herself until she finished Stanford and moved to Greece.

“Something about the atmosphere, the raw landscapes of the islands especially, moved me to start writing, and I haven’t stopped since,” Haskins said. “What I wrote at first, by the way, wasn’t very good but over the years, at least I hope so, I’ve gotten a bit better.”

And she certainly has. Haskins has been the recipient of many awards for her writing, including the Iowa Poetry Prize, two NEA fellowships, two Florida Book Awards, four Florida state arts fellowships and the Emily Dickinson prize from the Poetry Society of America. She also was made Honorary Chancellor of the Florida State Poets Association in 2016.

Haskins currently resides in Gainesville, which she considers to be the perfect place for someone such as herself.

“There’s such a wide range of smart people here that no matter what you want to know, there’s someone who can tell you,” Haskins said. “But there’s something else about this town that’s enriched me as a poet and that’s the chance to collaborate with such a variety of fine artists – be they visual artists, dancers, or musicians. Gainesville’s been lucky for me, and I’m grateful.” 

Meet artist Karen Koegel

Karen Koegel, the president of the Gainesville Fine Arts Association, did not always have a set career path in mind. In fact, the artist has had many careers, including being a special education teacher, a real estate agent, and even a professional organizer – which led to a stint on Oprah as a guest expert!

“I always believed that I was an artist even though I never had an art class,” Koegel said. “I had been going to art festivals all my adult life. In 2010, after the real estate crash, I moved back to Gainesville and began the path to being that artist.”

The path was not an easy one to pave, Koegel explained. While struggling to discover her artistic style, Koegel experimented with different mediums and constantly challenged herself to

find unique ways to communicate her thoughts.

“Whether I am scraping spackle, dripping liquid ink, crushing egg shells, or using spray paint, I believe all will unfold into a poetic, seductive, speculative piece,” Koegel said. “I learned to trust my instincts.”

Meet artist Ann Moore

Ann Moore is no stranger to trying out different career paths, which she claims she derived from her father. Gainesville-raised, Moore graduated from the University of Florida and did graduate work at Purdue University, specializing in set design for the theater. From there, she went on to Chicago and Atlanta to work in studios as an art director, set designer, and stylist.

After marrying her husband and moving to Bermuda, Moore began crafting dolls, which she sold worldwide. When Moore and her husband moved back to Gainesville, she experimented with making jewelry and sold it locally. Now, however, Moore is focused on painting.

“I have not painted in over 30 years and decided to try oils, which I find I really love,” Moore said. “I enjoy painting animals and landscapes, and my palette is somewhat dark and earthy because I have always loved the colors of the old masters.”

Since moving back to Gainesville, Moore has gotten involved in organizations, such as the Gainesville Fine Arts Association, and lives on 20 acres in High Springs with two Shire draft horses.

“I am visually surrounded by what makes me happy,” Moore said of living in the area.

Meet writer Sidney Wade

Sidney Wade, who began her professional life as a career counselor, turned to writing after reading Willa Cather’s book Death Comes for the Archbishop.

“It blew me away and turned my life around – literally,” Wade said.

As a result of that experience, Wade enrolled in a continuing education creative writing course at the University of Vermont and ultimately earned a doctorate in English/creative writing from the University of Houston. After that, she taught at the University of Florida for 21 years.

Wade has taught several workshops in poetry and translation at the University of Florida, and her translation with Efe Murad of selected poems of Melih Cevdet Anday won the Meral Divitci Prize.


By Haley Clement

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