Artist Gayle Cerlan was out walking her dog one afternoon last summer when she saw the most amazing thing.
It was a pigeon that had just been killed by a hawk. She and the dog ran home, grabbed a box, got in her car and raced back to where she had found the pigeon.
"She came over and was saying, 'I found something for you! I found something for you!'" her across-the-street neighbor, fellow artist Georgia Henkel, says. "It was beautiful, like this whole specimen."
A dead bird carcass might seem more like a gift you would get from the dog, or more likely, the cat.
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But Cerlan and Henkel have gotten to know each other and each other's sensibilities over the past few decades, particularly each other's artistic "image bank," as Henkel calls it. So it was not entirely surprising — though it was somewhat to them — that they found complementary pieces as they began putting together their current exhibit, Strange Sympathies, which is on display the rest of this month at the MS Rezny Studio/Gallery on Manchester Street.
A big part of those mutual sympathies is a taste for found objects, particularly natural objects, from plant life to road kill, which both incorporate into their art. Cerlan does that quite literally with her sculptures and assemblies, and objects often end up being images in Henkel's paintings, usually created on surfaces like old coal-mining maps.
"I can't work with a clear surface," Henkel says.
Now that they have put an exhibit together, it seems like quite a natural fit.
"Gayle really had this idea, because when she would come to my house, or I would come to her house, we would admire each other's collections of things," Henkel says. "Whenever we go to each other's houses, we wanted to see each other's latest finds."
Henkel traces her fascination with natural objects back to growing up on a farm and observing the circle of life. Though she has been a vegetarian since she was 10, she has no qualms about taxidermy and using dead animals in her art. She says it is a way of honoring creatures that otherwise die in anonymity.
Cerlan describes her interest as more of a natural attraction.
Putting together the show, they found they were frequently drawn to the same things, such as the bird that appears in Henkel's Bird Mate and Cerlan's Freudian Dreams.
It is the first time Cerlan and Henkel have exhibited together, though Cerlan did present a show of Henkel's work when she had her own gallery in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
They both say they appreciate Rezny, a fellow long-time Lexington artist, providing a venue to do a show such as theirs, though they also appreciate an evolving Lexington visual art scene where younger artists are finding ways to create and present art outside of traditional venues.
"They're creating these pop-up events," Henkel says. "Even A Cup of Common Wealth is presenting these coffee sleeve, coffee cup decorating events. So there are a lot of efforts being made to get the younger people, the college kids and even high school kids involved in community art projects.
"And the murals that have become such a part of the urban landscape have come from this generation as well."
A major thing both have found is that at this point in their careers, they like the sort of push they can provide each other as much as the inspiration they give each other.
"I need something going on," Cerlan says.
"We've seen each other grow in so many ways. And I don't think I could have pushed her or she could have pushed me this way seven years ago. There is a trust, and friendship."
Henkel adds, "And creativity as artists."
"That's really important," Cerlan says, "because not everyone understands artists as well as other artists."
Henkel says, "We forgive each other's trespasses."
And they know the perfect gifts to get each other.