The fine art of mothering; Goddesses: Images of the "ancient mother" are featured in an exhibit opening May 4 at the Columbia Art Center.


Ann Aves Martin is a goddess.

It's probably not a title she would use for herself, but as the Columbia artist excitedly discusses the show she is curating at the Columbia Art Center, it is obvious the adjectives also refer to her: "strong," "warm," "nurturing."

The show, "Ancient Mother: Images From the Unconscious," will run from May 4 through June 4, with a reception scheduled on -- appropriately -- Mother's Day.

It is the first time Martin, an artist for 25 years, has taken on the role of curator. The 65-year-old said the idea for the show grew from an experience she had last spring.

"I was doing some paintings and some drawings, and out came some work that seemed to spring out of nowhere," Martin recalled as she recently rested in the room in her home that she uses for studio space. "They were goddesses, and I didn't know anyone at the time who was doing goddesses."

The goddesses -- a combination of paintings and drawings of voluptuous women with round bellies that sparkle in various colors -- immediately intrigued Martin, who recognized the departure from her standard oil paintings as a mark of personal growth.

"They weren't anything like my usual work," she said. "The first ones scared me to death because they were so different, and I felt so much energy from them."

Martin said the goddesses so affected her that she did hundreds of them. "It was like a well," Martin said. "They changed the way I viewed myself."

After being asked to serve on the art center's board of advisers, Martin offered to organize a show and immediately turned to the theme of mothering because of her goddess work. The exhibit will feature 27 artists working in various media from ceramics to sculpture, all displaying their interpretation of the ancient mother.

"I think somewhere in each of us there is a concept, a knowing of what mothering is all about," Martin said. "It's warmth and comfort and healing."

At certain points in her life, Martin could have used some of that mothering. When she was 37, problems with cysts resulted in her having both breasts removed. That led to a very dark period in her life, she said.

"It was just such a despairing time," Martin recalled. "I had trouble thinking of myself as a woman."

Martin said she struggled to pull herself out of that depression, even as she dealt with weight issues that affected her self-esteem.

"In this culture, it seems that to be a woman is to be anorexic and somewhat brittle," Martin said. "I have always been overweight, and I had always rejected myself and failed to mold myself into what I thought was the appropriate body shape."

It was while working in advertising 25 years ago that Martin decided to surrender to artistic desires as a way of expressing herself.

In addition to the goddesses, Martin has completed a striking body of work done in oil pastels that display her fascination with shapes and shadows.

She sees her work as part of a continuum that has shaped her.

"I have never in my life been as happy and as whole as I am today," Martin said, laughing. "I think that has been a product of my art. It is as if these women [the goddesses] have come to say, 'Include yourself.' "

Martin brings that joy to the show. Rebecca Bafford, director of the Columbia Art Center, said she thinks Martin has done a "fabulous" job.

"This was the first time we brought in a new curator and had a show with this type of theme," Bafford said, adding that Martin "was confident in her choices and very focused about the pieces that really fulfilled the vision of what she wanted the show to be."

Leah J. Taylor, a Columbia artist who specializes in sculpture and collages, has three pieces in the show. Taylor said she is excited about the show, which she believes will resonate with its viewers.

"It's about protection, nurturing and life," Taylor said. "When a woman becomes president, the world will be a better place, because we know how to mother and take care of everyone."

While the theme is mothering, Martin says, she does not want male visitors to the show to feel left out.

"It's about a nurturing energy that is available to all of us," Martin said. "I hope that when people see the show, they will recognize that is also there in them."

"Ancient Mother: Images From the Unconscious" will run from May 4 to June 4 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth. A reception will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. May 14.

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