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In the midst of the loss and desolation that stalked New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina, local artist Miranda Lake got back to work in her flood-damaged studio on pieces that could be considered a form of reinvented preservation.

Lake assembles collages of found objects and old photographs set in surreal, distorted landscapes, all surrounded by the pigmented beeswax called encaustic, an art-making technique dating back to ancient Greece.

“It’s the most archival form of painting. It doesn’t crack, chip or fade,” says Lake, who mixes colors on a pancake griddle, which keeps the wax hot enough to manipulate. Touch-ups often require firing up a blowtorch.

“I like how the wax bathes and protects the images,” she says. “It’s such a sensual medium, it even smells delicious when it’s heated up. Working with it is a constant challenge, but you end up with something that’s filled with happy mistakes, things you didn’t start out envisioning, but just work.”

Embedded in the wax are collage elements such as faded family photos, clippings from letters and journals found in second-hand stores, maps, and images of unusual shells, plants, eggs, animals and abstract shapes.

Gumdrop Sally

A native of Connecticut, Lake traveled south for school, earned an art history degree from the University of North Carolina and then, as she puts it, “promptly started waitressing and bartending.” She traveled extensively before her rambling led to New Orleans in the late 1990s. The town instantly struck a chord with her. She soon bought an Uptown cottage, started setting down roots and got serious about making art.

Some people see themes of innocence and nostalgic charm in the childhood photos she uses. Others see disillusionment, menace and even dread in the same painting. Lake prefers to let individuals interpret her work as they will, and rarely divulges the stories she makes up in her head about them.

“There’s some sadness to these objects that were personal, then cast off and neglected. But I like the idea of found things having new lives, new homes,” she says. “There’s a surprise element to it. Would you ever expect a letter you wrote in Germany in 1943 ending up in a painting in New Orleans in 2007?”

Lake’s work is shown at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, which recently moved to 400 Julia St. in the Warehouse District.

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