Nicknamed the Beehive state, Utah proudly integrates imagery of beehives into many aspects of its being: the state flag, road markers, architecture, and more. The beehive has roots in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the arrival in the land Brigham Young named “Deseret,” or “honey bee” according to the Book of Mormon. It alludes to cooperative work and the industriousness of the worker bee. The relevance of the beehive symbol soon extended beyond the religious community to the entire state of Utah. In 1959, the beehive became its official symbol, with the honeybee as the state insect. The incorporation of the religious into the secular sphere accurately depicts the operative culture in present-day Utah. The exhibition The New Beehive, now at Granary Arts in Ephraim, presents a contemporary interpretation of its 1980 precursor The Grand Beehive, which documented different manifestations of the beehive in everyday Utah. The thirty participating artists in The New Beehive came in with a different approach; rather than find existing examples, they were tasked with using the conceptual framework of the beehive in offering their interpretation of life in this state.
As a result, the Utah Division of Arts curated a deeply personal and fascinating collection of pieces. Each work is structured using the basic hexagonal shape to mimic an individual cell in a honeycomb. This format was a conscious decision to step away from the imagery of the man-made skep, preferring to utilize the natural holding created by the bees. Most of the hexagons are fashioned out of richly stained planks of wood with the artist’s work across the interior of the shape. There is beautiful variety in this show: the use of traditional art materials like acrylic, paper collage and colored pencils is blended with the gilded detailing on Abraham Kimball’s assemblage, the textiles of artists like Linda Bergstrom and Virginia Catherall, Ashton Young’s stained glass, and Danielle Susi’s use of “preserved moss,” (to name just a few) to form a delicately crafted material showcase.
This group of artists represents a range of identities. While some offer more generic takes on the themes of the beehive and industry, the most successful pieces confront individual identities and expose narratives that are not typically discussed. In her artist statement, Lenka Konopasek writes that her “art comes from [her] experiences as a woman, mother, and [her] concerns for the environment” (36). Her work, “Unlikely Connections,” conveys her feelings of isolation and detachment from others in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her hexagonal cell features mixed media in a jarring presentation of spiky bits of black and gold paper arranged to appear scale-like. The texture swoops across the piece over the recognizable pattern of the honeycomb, and is both “beautiful and dangerous” as Konopasek aptly describes it.
Sarah May documents memories of her ancestors in her mixed media retablo altar entitled “Our Home.” The makeshift altar is a collection of small objects like candles, eggshells and feathers. There is also an old photograph of a woman alongside a poem over the salted flats of Utah. The poem speaks about the feeling of being out of place and “the pain we experienced and the tears we cried wishing for blue eyes and blonde hair.” “Our Home” feels like a cry of defiance and pride. In the face of a community and place that is so culturally and demographically homogeneous, Sarah May celebrates her people’s unique background and asserts her share in this land. She offers, “this is the palette of all of our beautiful shades of melanin.”
Similarly, Lola Reyes-Grant draws from her ancestry to create “La Abeja in Lavender,” using paper collage or papel picado, which means “chopped paper.” This technique is typically used in Mexico to make decorations for celebrations. As such, Reyes-Grant celebrates nature as her support system, pointing to the healing properties of being a witness to nature, for instance seeing a bee pollinating lavender. The cutouts collaged on top of each interact in latticed negative space and dainty organic silhouettes.
The New Beehive feels like a breath of fresh air. The mixture of free-standing sculptures and hanging pieces allows for a dynamic occupancy of the old-fashioned and bright interior of The Granary. The rich diversity of textiles and techniques used throughout the exhibition reflects the equally varied array of artists who contributed to the show. Not much explanation is needed in order to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of each piece. But, there is a catalog available with every artist statement and their visions really enhance the impact of each work. The New Beehive as a modern take on Utah life is laden with meaning and awareness, a great model for future collaborative shows for the arts community here in the beehive state.
The New Beehive, Granary Arts, Ephraim, through Jan. 21, 2022
Ally Lorico received her B.A. in Psychological and Brain Sciences from Washington University in St Louis. She aims to get a Masters in Art History and Curatorial Studies. Her research focuses on architectural history and sustainable practices, but in her everyday life she loves vegetable farming and playing with her corgi. She currently works as the curatorial intern at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, as she writes for 15 Bytes.