Sisters Gail Beason of Talent, left, and Nan Trout of Ashland meet for lunch at Pangea beneath mandala paintings by Betsy Lewis. Jim Craven - Jim Craven


Preserving flower petals in the shape of a circle, Janet London yearned for things of beauty. As years went by and a friend or acquaintance died, London fashioned more flower collages in tribute.

"And I had no idea of the spiritual meaning at that time," says the 61-year-old counselor.

It was only after five years of arranging pressed flowers in symmetric, orderly patterns that London could put her works into a single word: mandalas.

"I think signs and symbols and colors all access our subconscious," London says. "It's really a meditation the way I do it."

Mandalas' traditional use for meditation prompted London to broach the concept at a 2004 Rogue Community College workshop on the topic of art as a path to personal discovery. The book "Mandalas for Meditation," by Rüdiger Dahlke, introduced London to the Sanskrit word often translated as "sacred circle."

Common in Hindu and Buddhist motifs, mandalas also can be discerned in centuries-old works of Christian, Jewish and Islamic art, as well as more ancient tribal designs.

"In many cultures, they have religious deities in them," London says.

Although classic mandalas are precise and geometric, a months-long exhibit of modern works by a dozen Rogue Valley artists will feature whimsical and haphazard shapes, along with more traditional orbs. Diverse media — from meticulously cut, fitted and quilted fabric to ceramic tile arranged in mosaics to London's pressed flowers — can be seen in "The Healing Power of Mandala Art."

Many of the works represent the artist's own spiritual or emotional healing, says producer and exhibiting artist Betsy Lewis, who drew mandalas as therapy for severe depression. In the case of Ashland artist Niki Tamminga, whose soft-tissue sarcoma is in remission, mandalas represent physical healing.

"I was able to bring all that chaos into a semblance of order," says Tamminga, 49, of painting mandalas while undergoing treatment for systemic cancer.

"I've helped other people with their cancer experiences."

In helping local mandala artists find exhibit space, Lewis says she's bringing their sense of peace and healing to the larger community. Viewers likely will become inspired to draw or color mandalas, themselves, says Judy Barnes, executive director of Rogue Gallery and Art Center. The downtown Medford gallery sells paper reproductions of Lewis' original black-and-white mandalas and in June is showing a series of paintings by Eve Margo Withrow titled "Doorways to the Soul."

"I think it touches a deeper place," says 62-year-old Withrow of the spheres that dominate her paintings.

"It's soul essence."

Instead of confining her paintings' visual interest to the interior of a circle, Withrow uses the mandala as negative space. Colors, textures and abstract forms collide with the sphere's outline.

"I just don't accept the boundaries," Withrow says. "If you didn't have to put a frame on it, it would just keep going."

Repeated throughout nature, mandalas evoke the womb, earth, sun and moon, Withrow says. Even if viewers don't know what to call the shape, they understand its deep significance.

"I think it's such an innate thing for humans," she says.

The subconscious human urge to draw a circle and fill it in may explain how other mandala artists came out of the woodwork once Lewis started sharing her drawings. Her desire to organize a collaborative show took root several months ago, along with her fledging business, Art Event Productions.

"I've only been an artist for nine months," Lewis says.

Yet Lewis has a backlog of mandalas to color with fine art markers. Over the course of three years, the 53-year-old Medford resident filled sketch books with hundreds of black-and-white drawings in 6-inch circles. If the drawing speaks to Lewis of a clear theme or emotion, she goes back and fills it in.

Confident in her tinting techniques, Lewis says she plans to delve into oil paints. But her focal point isn't likely to change anytime soon.

"I think I'm going to stick with mandalas for a while."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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