Photos and story by Vickie AldousVickie Aldous | Daily TidingsGallery DeForest partner Nancy Bardos adjusts a letterpress-printed framed poem by Derek Pyle next to a painting by student artist Ali Van Olphen.

March promises to be a beautiful month in Ashland, and not just because of the spring weather.

Ashland galleries are shaking off the winter doldrums with exhibits that are bold and varied, quiet and subtly beautiful, representative of fresh young talent and mature vision.

Residents and tourists who go on the First Friday Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. this week can not only view art, but sample artisan chocolate. Many galleries and the Ashland Springs Hotel, which is headquarters for the fourth annual "Chocolate Festival" this weekend, are offering treats from Dagoba Organic Chocolates, Lillie Belle Farms, Cary's of Oregon and Karen Green's Ashland High School Foods and Business class.

Galleries are also hosting AHS and Wilderness Charter School student artists, who will show paintings, drawings, photography, video productions, fiber art, wood working pieces and stained glass.

Regulars on First Friday Art Walks have their theories about how to best take the gallery circuit around town, but an easy place to start is at a cluster of six galleries near the intersection of Fourth and A streets in Ashland's Historic Railroad District.

Ashland Gallery Association members all carry free maps with brief summaries of each gallery's exhibit for the month.

Gallery DeForest on Fourth Street is one of the galleries showcasing student art, including the vivid, decorative paintings of Ali Van Olphen and the intricate drawings of Elliot Merrill.

"I think it's so important for the community to see what these kids are up to," Cathy DeForest said. "It inspires them and supports them to go on."

Students will be on hand at many of the galleries to talk about their work.

Merrill, a student who is doing an internship at Gallery DeForest, said he has learned new skills such as framing and has found out that running a gallery requires a lot of work.

"I've been surprised seeing the stress level that I didn't know was there with all the framing and coordinating," he said.

The Fourth Corner Fine Quilt Gallery on A Street will reopen after a winter break with all-antique furniture on which to display quilts that date from 1840 to 1940. With its high ceilings, the gallery also has plenty of wall space to hang March's exhibit of quilts with animal motifs, ranging from a plume-tailed squirrel to zoo and circus creatures.

At Davis Cline Gallery on A Street, owner John Davis has permanently set aside a room for the work of internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly.

GET OUT — More than two dozen Ashland — galleries will be open — extended hours from

Evening may be the best time to view the large-scale, richly colored pieces under the gallery lights.

"When the sun goes down, this room just comes to life," Davis said.

Davis Cline Gallery has become a destination for major collectors, who would otherwise have to travel to southern California or Seattle to find Chihuly's work.

Farther down A Street, visit Gathering Glass Studio to see live glass-blowing demonstrations and stained glass by AHS artist Alicia Bulux-Rodas.

Turning uphill onto Oak Street, Ashland Art Works members have created work with a red theme to accompany gourmet chocolate toffee from Cary's of Oregon. Chocolatiers will compete on Friday evening to create artistic masterpieces made out of &

you guessed it &

chocolate.

Beginning the tour of downtown Ashland at a group of galleries on North Main Street near tiny creek-side Bluebird Park, don't miss "Day Dreams," a display of paintings and sculptures by 15 female Hanson Howard Gallery artists in honor of national Women's History Month.

Several artists known for their landscapes and figurative work have submitted abstract paintings for the show.

Chocolate, student art and the work of established artists can be found at many galleries in the downtown.

Jhenna Quinn Lewis is back through mid-April at The Living Gallery on South First Street. Her oil paintings done in a luminous Old Masters style contrast the smooth, hard sheen of vases, bowls and dominos with the fluffy bodies of alert birds that have alighted for a moment.

She is joined in the show by her daughter, Kara Lewis, a photographer and graduate student at Southern Oregon University. Both have a minimalist sensibility softened by an attention to the way light plays off and illuminates surfaces.

Jeff Shepherd, founder of Lillie Belle Chocolates, will display chocolate art and the gallery will have Dagoba chocolate squares and tasting drops.

Heidi Grossman, owner of The Living Gallery, has participated in past chocolate festivals in Ashland and said the combination of art and chocolate is popular with people who stop in.

"They just love it," she said.

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Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .