Coral Gables

Coral Gables artist captures the ‘face’ of the city’s trees


If you go

What: Opening reception for Coral Gables artist Cindy Birdsill’s tree paintings

When: 7 p.m. Friday; exhibit runs through August

Where: Societá Dante Alighieri, 300 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

Cost: Free.

Information: 305-529-6633

Crunching numbers and capturing Coral Gables’ majestic trees on oil and canvas paintings would seem mutually exclusive talents.

Cindy Birdsill spends much of her week poring over spreadsheets and organizing events as Coral Gables’ economic sustainability director.

But the multifaceted Birdsill, 46, also holds a degree in visual and dramatic arts from the University of North Carolina and a master’s in painting from Towson University in Maryland. After college, she worked in set design.

This side of Birdsill’s talents will be on display through the month of August at Societá Dante Alighieri and spotlighted Friday at an opening reception during Gallery Night.

Birdsill’s series of oil on canvas trees capture the lush beauty of Coral Gables’ banyans near the library and the mesquites at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. In some examples, such as in a striking 36-by-48-inch painting she calls Guarding the Children, a tall banyan at the Coral Gables Library appears to have eyes watching over the bookworms who stroll by. The tree’s “face,” also is depicted in another large work, Shaman, existed naturally but the painting animates its features, brings it to life. The trees’ anthropomorphic forms seem to mimic passerby with legs here, an arm there, entwining limbs locked in lovers’ embrace.

“I’ve always been an artist, but you can’t make money doing that,” Birdsill joked.

Since moving to the Gables almost four years ago from Baltimore, where Birdsill worked as a lawyer, she struggled to find her place in the Gables. She connected to the trees and felt at home. “The trees are so important, and I was having trouble feeling connected here. I got connected to the trees, and so I paint the trees of Coral Gables,” she said.

So far, her work has captured the attention of the public and city officials at previous exhibits such as an exhibit at Books & Books last winter.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said Mayor Jim Cason. “These trees are everywhere and you see trees like this but you don’t always look close and see a face in there — maybe we’re not faceless bureaucrats after all,” he joked.

“What a great combination of lawyer and artist,” Cason continued, noting her job also includes overseeing art and cultural offerings in the city and projects like the pending design of two new monuments for Segovia Street, at the intersections with Biltmore Way and Coral Way. “Her artistic background is great for the city, to have someone with these talents.”

Birdsill paints primarily on the weekends at the home she shares with her husband Jeff, “and a lot of pets.” The couple met in high school and dated at the time, but reconnected on Facebook about five years ago. Jeff Birdsill also paints and works in sculptures. “Family trees and roots,” she said.

Art, and capturing images through painting, Birdsill said, is a way to touch people non-verbally and yet evoke strong emotions. “It’s direct communication, you’re relating to somebody’s experience.”

Using the logical side of her brain to get through the work week dovetails nicely with her artistic side.

“This is the first job I’ve had where I get to do everything. I oversee art and culture for the city and run grant programs and arts in public places and the jazz series. When I lived in Baltimore and was just a lawyer. I had to be on nonprofit boards to get my art fix,” she said, laughing.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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