In the still-dark month of February, the Ashland Gallery Association has put together a First Friday art walk designed to bring in a little more light.

In the still-dark month of February, the Ashland Gallery Association has put together a First Friday art walk designed to bring in a little more light.

"February can be a slow month for everyone, not just the art galleries," said administrator Suzanne Heinrich. "I think you're going to see big crowds."

The primary focus this Friday is the Art Treasure Hunt, which runs through the month and offers prizes for successful participants. Some of the galleries have organized their work around Valentine's Day themes, while others are exploring alternate areas of interest.

"We just thought it would be fun to focus on the theme of treasures and happened to have 'Valentine Pig' by Greta Ashworth," said Judy Howard of Hanson Howard Gallery, at 82 N. Main St. "We just thought this is perfect."

The oil-on-board painting triggered the idea to link to Valentine's Day, Howard said. The pig, like many of Ashworth's animal paintings, is colorful, whimsical and a little distorted, giving a humorous effect.

"Greta adds this smirk," Howard said. "In this recession and economy, the last couple months we've been trying to make people smile."

Ashworth confirms this link to humor in her artist's statement.

"There is an ... aspect to my work and that is humor," she wrote. "If I don't include humor, even if it's a little dark, I don't feel the piece is complete. It's how I gain perspective on this gigantic, beautiful mess."

Etienne Gallery, at 270 Fourth St., continues the Valentine's theme with its "Red Hot Valentines" show. The gallery will feature red jewelry by Sarah Waldron, cherub sculptures by Marianne Groh and a new piece, "Loose Heart," by Nicole Etienne-Powell.

The galleries are not forcing their art into themes, though. The quality of the pieces usually comes first, then the show evolves around them.

"The treasure hunt is the common theme for February. March is chocolate," Heinrich said. "We didn't plan anything for a Valentine's theme, some galleries just picked it up."

Bohemia Gallery's theme evolved through a mixture of chance and direction from owners Inger Jorgensen and Nicole Hurley. The gallery at 552 A St. is showing encaustic work from two Oregon artists, Claire Flint of Eugene and Holly Kilpatrick of Medford's Rogue Gallery & Art Center, and one Hawaii artist, Brad Huck from Maui.

"I found Brad Huck in a gallery in Maui and fell in love with his work," Jorgensen said. "When you find a gem, it's a good thing to go with for a theme. It just sort of gelled after that. When we see work we like, we jump on it."

Encaustic work is generally collage, photographs or drawings on a surface (wood, in the case of all the pieces at Bohemia) which is combined with pigmented beeswax and fixed on the board with heat.

First Friday events will be in full swing from 5 to 8 p.m. at participating galleries and venues downtown, in the Railroad District and at the Ashland Community Hospital. For information, call 541-488-8430 or see the Web site ashlandgalleries.com.

Contact Myles Murphy at 541-488-6246 or mmurphy@dailytidings.com.