Photo courtesy of Elena Townsend-Efimova

Full disclosure. I’ve known Elena Townsend-Efimova since my daughter was in kindergarten at the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor more than twenty years ago. Townsend-Efimova has taught art there since 1996 and my daughter was in her classes from elementary through high school. 

While I’ve long recognized Townsend-Efimova’s gifts as a teacher, I’d not known that Townsend-Efimova was herself an exceptional artist—until I saw her current exhibit at the Ann Arbor Senior Center. Turns out, it’s her first show ever. 

“My passion was always teaching,” she explains, but “I’ve been sketching all my life.” She’s also an accomplished watercolorist and mosaic artist, and the show includes work in a variety of media. 

The centerpiece is a collection of 16 striking metal mosaics—a project she started when an asymptomatic case of Covid in January 2022 forced her to stay home for a week. Her raw materials were “coffee cans full of weird metal items” she’d bought years earlier at a garage sale, including fasteners, hinges, pegboard hooks, and keys. 

On fields of black and gold seed beads, nails in various shades, staples, washers, etc., she artfully assembled the metal odds and ends, creating whimsical, fanciful, yet realistic depictions of insects, birds, and flowers. A nutcracker and small scissors became fantastical insects’ antennae, silver and brass nails the feathers of birds pecking at rusty fronds, fanned cotter pins flattened flower petals. The assemblages are ingenious and beautifully balanced, with convincing colors and shadings. They invite us to look closely and also to admire from a distance.

Two large abstract Pollock-esque oils bring to mind the stunning space photos of the WEBB telescope, while Townsend-Efimova’s series of masterful watercolors, trees wreathed in the colors of the seasons, some with angelic figures hovering in bare branches, eloquently juxtapose the deeply rooted and earthbound with the ever-changing and the heavenly.

This theme of contrasts recurs throughout Townsend-Efimova’s art; representational to abstract; fluid watercolors to pointillistic metal works. In her hands, rigid, lifeless metals portray soft, supple life forms, while those malleable life forms—the insects, birds, and flowers which we associate with fragility—also embody fierceness and perseverance. It is Townsend-Efimova’s ability to encompass, reconcile and unify all these disparate elements that gives her work its power.

Ann Arbor Senior Center, 1320 Baldwin. Head, Hands, and Heart (Jan. 13–Mar. 30). Watercolors and mosaics by Elena Townsend-Efimova. Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–4 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.–2 p.m. 794–6250,