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As big as life itself

Rebecca Gabriel's painting titled "Lemons" would stand in stark contrast to some of her other works.

The oil on canvas still life measures just 9-by-12 inches, while some of her other pieces weigh in at much larger.

"I work in life-sized proportions," says the artist. "I like to delve into my subjects.

"I can more easily discover their qualities when they are life-size," she says. "I find that if I try to constrain a subject that it somehow dilutes or cramps its essence."

One of Gabriel's other paintings, titled "Roots," comes in at a whopping 4 feet high and 12 feet wide.

But great things come in small packages, and despite "Lemons" size, the painting is now on display in the offices of the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

"I was invited to loan the painting to the NEA," Gabriel says. "It's been my biggest validation as an artist.

"The NEA offices serve all arts endowment committees and organizations, and they are open to the public," she says. "Thousands of national and international visitors enter the offices each year. It is such an honor for me."

It all began when a man named Dana Gioia attended a writers conference in Ashland about seven years ago.

Gabriel's husband, Jonah Bornstein, has coordinated the local Ashland Writers Conferences for years, and Gioia and Gabriel met during a gathering at Gabriel's and Bornstein's home in Ashland.

Gioia visited Gabriel's studio and expressed an interest in her paintings. The two stayed in touch for the next several years before losing contact with each other.

Gioia later became the executive chairman for the NEA, and when he found an opportunity to display Gabriel's work in the offices on Capitol Hill, he contacted her.

"He said that he'd been thinking about my art all along," she says. "It was very exciting."

"Lemons" will not be sold as it is actually owned by someone else. It will be displayed at the NEA for two years.

Gabriel has been living in Ashland for 18 years. She found her way to the Rogue Valley from Los Angeles.

Her paintings have been displayed at Davis and Cline Gallery and Hanson Howard Gallery in Ashland and other cities around the country. Her works can be viewed at hagensfineart.com/portfolio/index on the Web. "Roots" is currently displayed at Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland.

Gabriel's work has earned awards that include a certificate of achievement in art from the office of the mayor of New York City and a "Best of Show" at the Human Form exhibit at the recent Newport Visual Art Center in Oregon. Her paintings have appeared in a wide range of publications and have been exhibited nationwide.

Gabriel earned a master's in fine art from the University of Massachusetts in 1976 where she was granted a university fellowship in painting. She also studied with the Arts Students League in New York City in 1986. She studied painting in Vienna, Austria, in 1997 with Michael Fuchs and his father, Ernst Fuchs, at Payerbach Castle, just 20 miles from Vienna. She also holds a master's in art education from the Massachusetts College of Art.

Gabriel's medium of choice is oil and pastel on canvas. She works in traditional and contemporary styles to creates landscapes, still lifes and portraits. Her paintings hold her unique sensibility.

"Each painting, each subject, is a mystery," Gabriel says. "There's something there that needs to be understood, and it reveals itself through the work."

"It's how I find truth."