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Embracing a Sleeping Giant – Through the Art of Carmen Lugo

Twelve Oaks Nature Preserve is a special place for anyone that visits, especially if you let the place “speak” to your senses. This is the essence of Carmen Lugo’s view of what makes these 30 acres of woodlands a great place to create art. Carmen is the seventh in a succession of Artist in Residence that have spent quality time at this magical place over the past six years. One of 51 preserves and holdings managed by the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, Twelve Oaks is distinguished by the 12 majestic old Live Oaks that define its essence, and a big part of its rich history. So who is this young, self-proclaimed “Little Painter” that is interpreting the feeling of the place through her “artistic voice”?

Inspired by her grade school teacher Mrs. Tillman and Sandra Halet, two of many mentors over the past 10 years, Carmen is a graduate of art programs at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (Jeff Davis Campus), Auburn University, and Troy State. Carmen loves to express herself through a range of media including acrylic, mixed media (paper, graphite, and objects direct from nature), and a technique called encaustic – the use of beeswax and damar resin that are heated and applied to any surface, with pigments added as with any type of painting. Objects can be imbedded in the media to add texture and content. The term is derived from Greek, meaning a burning in. How cool is that to do art with a fire … and a fire extinguisher nearby … just in case 😊 When asked if she had a favored media, her answer spoke to Carmen’s approach toward her art – “It is like screaming in different voices”. Three dimensions are expressed through encaustic. The use of gouache, a unique type of paint that’s similar to both watercolor and tempera paint, let’s her celebrate her love of insects that are a common theme of her work. Mixed media helps here express emotion through words and symbols.

Her goal at Twelve Oaks then is to use this toolbox of approaches to interpret the “feeling of this place through my voice (art)”. As we strolled across the grounds, Carmen’s thoughts were about how she felt she was walking on the back of a sleeping giant, that you can sense through your feet, and how the roots of the oaks were exposed arteries, and that the place was a “living thing”. It is certainly a refuge for anyone that visits, if you let it speak to your senses. Melanie Allen coordinates the Artist in Residence program for the Land Trust, that is funded by the organization and a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. “This Artist in Residence project allows the Land Trust to tell the story of Twelve Oaks in the language of art. Each artist we have selected has found their own interpretation of Twelve Oaks as they have walked the trails or sat under the magnificent live oaks. Their interpretations of the spirit of this unique place end up on a canvas or piece of paper, in clay or in copper, or as words on a page…and then we get to spread the beautiful story of Twelve Oaks though their work. We know Carmen will interpret her experience at Twelve Oaks using her own artistic talents, and we can’t wait to see what she creates.”

We all look forward to “seeing” how this energetic “Little Painter” tells the tale of this magical place. A showing of her work is scheduled for May. Her works can be seen now at Smith & Lens Gallery in Bay St. Louis, the Creatives Gallery at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs, or her website at httpss://


Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.


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