Anitra Redlefsen could very well be one of the country's foremost authorities on pomegranates. She can readily cite everything from the fruit's history to its nutritional value.
She knows all the references to pomegranates in literature, Greek mythology and art. She's traveled to California twice to see pomegranates in both their spring flowering season and fall harvest. She's even got quite a good collection of recipes for dishes like pomegranate chicken salad, lamb kabobs, jelly and sorbet.
So how did this artist from Medina become so taken with pomegranates? She said she simply cut one open a few years ago and saw all the artistic potential come flowing out.
"This really has to be one of nature's most amazing things," she said. "On the outside, it looks like nothing out of the ordinary, but when you cut it open, you see all its complexity."
Redlefsen said she immediately began seeing pomegranates as a metaphor for people. They may look like one thing on the surface, but you really must get to know what's "inside" to know the real person.
And, thus, she not only began to thoroughly enjoy eating the tart yet sweet fruits but also photographing and painting them as well.
Pomegranates are everywhere in the home Redlefsen shares with her husband, Dain. In her kitchen, there is a crate of pomegranates that has just arrived from California's San Joaquin Valley. She plans to photograph them in various still life arrangements.
Outside her bedroom, there's a large oil painting of a freshly cut pomegranate on the wall. The artist said she was thrilled to find a color, called alizarin, to be the perfect match for the deep blood red of the fruit's juices.
In her lower level studio, there are books, photographs of her trips to the California pomegranate orchards and more paintings.
On her desk is a wood box, featuring a painting of a whole pomegranate on the lid. Inside, the seeds are depicted. The box will be donated to the Akron Area Arts Alliance for a Nov. 11 auction called Out of the Box.
Redlefsen loves to share her knowledge of pomegranates.
They date back at least 4,000 years to Persia, where the juice was used to dye rugs. There are several Biblical references to the fruit and, in Hebrew tradition, pomegranates are considered one of the seven sacred crops.
With each fruit containing 500 to 800 seeds (Redlefsen has counted!), pomegranates have long been considered a symbol of fertility and good fortune.
Redlefsen, 51, is putting all her research to good use. She is writing a book on pomegranates, perhaps a coffee table-style book, full of her photographs and paintings. Although it is now in draft form, she is already fulfilling requests for it on the Internet.
If, 20 years ago, you would have asked Redlefsen to imagine her life today as a painter of pomegranates, she would have probably laughed.
She spent 23 years working for Ohio Bell, but when she took a creative journaling class in 1991, she realized there was an artist inside her waiting to come out. She didn't think twice when her company offered her an early retirement package, and she began taking a variety of art classes at Cuyahoga Community College.
Today, Redlefsen balances her time between her personal art projects and teaching. She offers private art lessons to children in her home and does some substitute teaching in the Medina schools.
She's actively involved with the Akron Area Arts Alliance and spearheaded the project that brought several local artists together to paint panels for the new downtown Akron studio of WKYC-TV.
She also started the Medina chapter of the Very Special Arts Program, which brings the arts to the disabled and others the arts aren't readily accessible to. Each year, she also leads art projects for children at First Night Akron.
Whereas other artists find their calling in painting portraits or landscapes, Redlefsen believes she has found her calling in painting fruit. She wants to capture every detail - the seeds, the juices, the membranes, the coloring subtleties - in the most realistic manner possible.
Within the next year, she hopes to take her collection of pomegranate photos and paintings to a gallery, and there, she hopes people will see more than what meets the eye.
"I would hope people have an interaction, an experience," she said. "Pomegranates have given me much to think about. You know they are only available from August to November, or September to December, depending on where you live.
"You have to wait all year to enjoy them and then they are gone. So you have to learn patience and you have to sustain yourself but there just is no other taste like it!"
Redlefsen paints and photographs on commission. She can be reached at 330-723-6500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMMUNITY EXTRA / City / Beautiful Things
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