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Arts & Culture

Live Active Cultures

Theatrical art and design steals the show at Maitland Art Center's January Culture & Cocktails event

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The Maitland Art Center, which was founded as an artist colony by architect Andre J. Smith in 1937, should be considered a core component of Central Florida's cultural heritage. But nearly every time we at Orlando Weekly addressed the institution in the last couple of years, it was to cover controversy instead of art.

Last Friday I visited Maitland's historical art complex and I'm delighted to report that, whatever battles may have boiled behind the scenes between the publicly supported nonprofit's management and ex-city councilman Phil Bonus, the drama had no apparent effect on attendees' enjoyment of this month's Culture & Cocktails event. Instead, the evening's inventive intersection between the worlds of sculpture and stage proved one of the more interesting visual art exhibitions I've attended this winter.

If you've never attended Culture & Cocktails – held on the second Friday of each month, fall through spring – it's almost worth the $5 admission just to explore the charming Mayan Revival campus, rightly recognized since 1982 in the national register of historic places. You'll find some of the resident artists inside their bungalow-style studios, eager to share their latest works, while outside, guests stroll the brick paths or lounge on the lawn. Garden courtyards reveal drink stations and edible delights.

This month, the main galleries were given over to James Casey's Equine Sculptures show. A lifelong Florida resident, Casey has taught art at UCF and Seminole State College, and exhibited in New York and Texas as well as across our state. For his current show, on display through March 10, Casey has made horse-inspired figures out of rough cloth, ragged wood and raw twine, blending organic materials with primitive mechanical imagery. The results reminded me (in a pleasant way) of miniature versions of the horse puppets used in Broadway's War Horse.

Across the street the Germaine Marvel building houses the heart of the Culture & Cocktails party, featuring a different one-night-only art exhibit each month accompanied by live music and associated merrymaking. January's theme, "The Art of the Theatre," highlighted three artists whose work bridges the gap between visual fine arts and Orlando's theatrical community. The first was UCF theater professor Huaixiang Tan, whose colorful costume and makeup designs were displayed in stages from concept design through final execution; of particular note were her eye-popping Egyptian outfits for Side Show.

Kristen Wheeler of KH Photographics, the second featured artist, has a talent for transforming theater publicity pics into images that stand alone as interesting artworks, independent of their show of origin. In all honesty, it's impossible for me to be objective in my admiration for Wheeler's work, since the majority of the prints she displayed derived from Phantasmagoria and other Empty Spaces plays I've co-produced. Instead, I'll highlight her haunting black & white photos of Dennis Neal in Satchmo at the Waldorf, his ghostly horn-holding figure starkly silhouetted by stage lights.