A Christmas gift has inspired island artist Beth Appleton to create a new body of work.

On Friday, Feb. 8, Appleton premiered an exhibit of her latest creations at the Apalachicola Museum of Art located at 96 5th Street.

The exhibit includes both her familiar cut paper confections and a new medium depicting the microorganisms in Apalachicola Bay.

 “I got a microscope for Christmas three years ago and that’s where it started,” Appleton said. “I was always fascinated by all the tiny creatures as a kid but then I got away from it. When I got back into it, it just took me away.”

This rebirth of interest led to the creation of “micro waterscapes” featuring the images of plankton from our bay. The waterscapes are photographs. The original image exists only as a file on Appleton’s computer. The images on display are all prints.

“I look under the microscope and piece together literally hundreds of photographs of tiny plants and animals magnified 1600 times. I have to say it took about two months to do a single assemblage,” said Appleton. “About 200 photos go into one. Nothing I do is simple. I was hoping I could simplify in my older age.”

At the reception, biologist Megan Lamb from the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research was on hand with a microscope to let visitors view the original miniscule life forms depicted on Appleton’s canvases. Visitors were delighted when the tiny organisms danced and wriggled across the screen.

At the same gala opening, Appleton also premiered something very new - A children’s book she wrote and illustrated entitled “Gently Down the Stream.” The illustrations are her familiar cut paper assemblages and the words are a poem/song written to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat.”

The subject matter is the complexity and beauty of the web of life. Her poetry conjures up barking dogs, glowing jellyfish and fishing boats bobbing on the bay.

Appleton said she has produced prototypes of several books but this is the first she published.

“I was inspired by Michaelin (Watts) and her work with Bring Me a Book to do it,” she said, “They bought 300 copies.”

Appleton’s dear friend, island resident Velma Frye performed another version “Row, row, row your boat,” at the opening. One she composed to honor the artist. Her lyrics are:

First I cut the paper

Cut it with a tiny knife, yeah, or a scissor.

Move it all a-round. Move it over here. Now I like it.

Paste it down, down, Paste it down, down.”

The crowd of more than 70 art lovers gathered around Frye and sang the song as a round.

The reception was just the beginning of this multifaceted exhibit for Appleton. All this week, children from the ABC and Franklin County Schools will be visiting the museum. Appleton lowered the pictures to child eye level for the occasion. She will host the school groups herself.

Lamb will again be on hand with her microscope.

On Feb. 19 and 20, Appleton will go into the schools with Franklin Bring Me a Book to read “Gently Down the Stream.” Each child will receive a copy of Appleton’s book. Bring Me a Book is also donating art supplies to each classroom that participates in the event so each child can make a paper plate fish.

Beth Appleton’s art will remain on display, at adult level, at the Apalachicola Museum of Art through March 15. The exhibit includes both new pieces and older work many will recognize from other exhibits.

She said she was delighted with the outpouring of interest at the reception and feels that a great many things have come together to help her hang her newest exhibit and delve into the web of life.