Presents of Mind

Everyone's aware that going to a mall during the holiday season will probably make you feel sick. Still, a lot of people who know better end up there anyway, with that pre-Christmas sale-induced consumer hysteria that leads to purchasing a mountain of stuff you would probably never even look at any other time of the year. Consider the alternative.

On the day after Thanksgiving I got up at a godly hour and drove around town visiting artists' studios, galleries, museum shops, and holiday art sales in private homes. Far from the bustle of Black Friday, I was the only customer in almost every place I went. While the pieces typically exhibited in art galleries can be prohibitively expensive for those of us with modest means, some venues are offering small works at accessible prices during the gift-buying season. A lot of local artists not represented by galleries will sell work in their studios, eliminating a dealer markup. Other moderately priced possibilities to check out are photography and artists' prints, folk and outsider art, and Haitian art and crafts.

Following are some of the places where you can find art that is beautiful, provocative, or fabulously strange. Witnessing the joy and wonder of human creativity is guaranteed to stir your holiday spirit, even muster some of that elusive good will toward your fellow beings. It's also a better way to buy your tree trimmings and holiday decorations and maybe a present for yourself -- my sled was almost as full as Santa's by the time I got home.

Pablo Cano makes angels appear out of rusty gasoline cans and builds castles inside old perfume bottles. Such miracles happen all year round at the artist's home studio off U.S. 1, but the holiday season is a particularly good time to drop by. Cano has put together a display of works with gift-giving in mind. Glazed ceramic plates are painted with classically drawn portraits of women, Picassoesque madonnas, romantic landscapes, scenes of old Havana, or abstract patterns ($50 for dinner plates, $300 for a large platter). Cano also makes complete services of ceramic dinnerware to order. Small boxes, with designs similar to those on the plates, for holding jewelry or secrets are $60. Large magic-realist ceramic sculptures based on Mother Goose nursery rhymes would be wonderful in a child's room (placed high on a shelf, of course): a slightly sinister Humpty Dumpty ($900), the dish running away with the spoon ($600), and more. Other works range from delicate black-and-white prints ($20) and assemblages of gasoline and mineral spirits cans ($700). Cano is one of our undersung local talents: a hopeless romantic whose fantastic works make visions dance in your head. Call him at 856-5031.

Tamara Hendershot's multicolor South Beach bungalow, otherwise known as the Vanity Novelty Garden, is packed with paintings and objects by artists from Florida and rural parts of the South. A collector of art by self-taught "outsiders," Hendershot regularly sends work by local artists to galleries in other parts of the country, but those interested in folk and visionary art and incredible junk can visit this museum of imagination by appointment.

We can't build snowmen in Florida but we can put stuff outside on the grass. Get your yard art here. Possibilities include a birdhouse decorated with colorful metal figures, a carved wooden crocodile ($60), a larger-than-life red rooster ($325), and huge whirligigs made of wood, plastic, and bicycle wheels in the shape of airplanes or people (up to $6000). For inside the house, long wooden fishes painted with bright geometric patterns ($50) can be hung on the wall. Hendershot's stock of paintings includes primitive scenes by Tampa-area artist Ruby Williams that feature smiling animals and fish ($50-$75). Keys native Brian Dowdell creates ethereal images of insects and animals using grains of sand on brown paper ($50). Miamian Eric Holmes's stark paintings of flowers and people on wooden boards are visual poems ($50). Granted, not everyone will go for a mask made out of a paint can ($50) or a three-foot-high wooden package of Kool cigarettes ($325). But Hendershot's holdings will also impress serious collectors of outsider art -- she has access to works by Overtown painter Purvis Young and other well-known artists. Call Hendershot at 534-6115.

Haitian art collector and former Sun-Sentinel film critic Candice Russell is having a Haitian art and crafts sale in her Plantation home this weekend. In addition to sequined flags ($30-$400) and metal mermaid sculptures and angel candle holders ($32 and up), Russell is offering paintings by important Haitian primitive artists at a good price. She also has a broad selection of typical crafts in metal, wood, and papier-mache, and toys for children, including a papier-mache tap-tap (Haitian bus) with Kiss me, please written on the side ($17), and glossy painted wooden dogs, alligators, and other animals ($15). Vodou paintings include works by Andre Pierre, whose work was featured in the Miami Art Museum's fall exhibition "Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou." Also on display are eighteen politically symbolic works by the abstract painter La Fortune Felix. Other canvases include naive landscapes of the Haitian countryside and paintings of animals appropriate for children's rooms. Items range from $10 to $7500, with most of the paintings priced at a few hundred dollars. Russell will hold the sale Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Call her at 954-792-9887 for hours and directions.

Jeffrey and Dina Knapp, who live in Miami Beach, collect the lushly sequined and beaded satin flags created for use in Vodou ceremonies. They have a selection for sale in various sizes ranging in price from $20-$400. The sparkling religious banners typically depict the symbols of the Vodou spirits, at times in the form of Catholic saints; some have more abstract designs. The flags, which aesthetically and spiritually enhance any room, would also make great holiday decorations. Contact Dina Knapp through Books & Books on Lincoln Road (532-3222). Also ask artist Knapp about her own mixed media vinyl collages featuring tropical scenes and Florida memorabilia -- great gifts for Floridaphiles living out of state (starting at $300, they're available at Barbara Gillman Gallery, listed below).

Many have mourned the loss of Bianca Lanza's space on Jefferson Avenue, once the most happening stop on the Lincoln Road gallery walk. Lanza is still in Miami, sporting a new cropped hairdo, and still keeping her sharp eye out for art. One artist she likes is William Cordova, who describes the content of his intimate pictures incorporating wry messages in Spanish and English as "a tug of war between emotion and logic" ($200). Romantic wax-coated drawings of South Beach Art Deco hotels by Israeli artist Eran Shakine are available, as are his splendid shadowy charcoals of European architecture that look like memories (both $400). Works by other artists who exhibited at the now-defunct gallery can still be acquired through Lanza. Contact her at 532-1276.

Pallas Photographic Gallery is currently exhibiting Robert Torske's unflinching studio portraits and elegant documentary photographs of the Quichua people in Bolivar Province, Ecuador ($300-$400). The gallery also has a stock of black-and-white photos by Miami-based photographers including Andrew Melick's homoerotic male nudes ($350), Paul Morris's work shot in rural Tennessee and elsewhere, and a series by Deborah Gray Mitchell documenting the now-closed Nashville farmers' market. If someone on your list is interested in a specific subject -- Florida or other regions, landscapes, urban scenes, Americana, portraiture, or work by a specific photographer, Pallas will try to find the right pictures for you. Call Michelle Sas at 573-7020.

Short List
More suggestions for artful holiday shopping: The South Florida Art Center's Ground Level Gallery and the Bakehouse Art Complex: holiday exhibitions of small works by resident artists. Or take a tour of artists' studios there and at the Espanola Way Art Center. Lucio Rodrigues Gallery: Brazilian folk objects, sculpture, and primitive paintings. Barbara Gillman Gallery: small works in various media. Haitian Art Factory: paintings and crafts, tree ornaments, and other Christmas-theme items. World Resources: wooden angels, musical instruments, furniture, textiles, and objects from Indonesia and India. Museum of Contemporary Art: art books, jewelry, and objects by artists. Bass Museum of Art: cards and Art Deco jewelry. Miami Art Museum: art books, glassware, and other household items. Wolfsonian: design and architecture books, cards, and magazines. Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum: menorahs, mezuzahs, and jewelry. Historical Museum of Southern Florida: vintage Florida post cards, photography books on Florida, children's toys and games, and Seminole jewelry. Fairchild Tropical Garden: botanical drawings, prints, and posters. Consult "Calendar Listings" for addresses and other museums, galleries, and special holiday sales.

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