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Reason to bee hopeful: Pollinators show finds fertile ground at Art at the CAVE gallery

Works in ceramics, glass, metal and wood to paintings, sculpture and video on display through May 31

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 10, 2024, 6:04am
7 Photos
An art exhibit exploring the role of pollinators is on display at Art at the CAVE gallery in Vancouver through May 31. Sales associate Janice Ferguson works in the gallery on Tuesday morning.
An art exhibit exploring the role of pollinators is on display at Art at the CAVE gallery in Vancouver through May 31. Sales associate Janice Ferguson works in the gallery on Tuesday morning. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Have you heard the buzz? There’s a new art exhibit this month at Art at the CAVE, a contemporary art gallery in downtown Vancouver. The gallery is showcasing the work of three artists, Clark County residents Sharon Agnor and Kathy Willson and Clackamas, Ore., resident Cindy Geffel. Their engaging, colorful and just plain fun works are on display through May 31, featuring two- and three-dimensional art in a panoply of media designed to get people thinking about pollinators.

“It’s not just honeybees that are pollinators,” Geffel said. “It’s all native bees, birds, butterflies and even rodents. They pollinate two-thirds of what we eat. Without these tiny creatures, these small little things, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Visitors will see playful works in ceramics, glass, metal and wood to paintings, sculpture and video. The vibrant colors and freewheeling shapes disguise the topic’s gravity: Pollinator populations are shrinking due to habitat loss, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fields and meadows are being replaced with roads, lawns and nonnative plants.

Geffel is a beekeeper as well as a multimedia artist. She said she’s been tending bees for six years, although she quipped that “beekeepers are novices for the first 20 years.” Geffel moved to a rural location in Clackamas County a few years ago and said that her natural surroundings have influenced her art. She’s developed a particular admiration for bees.

IF YOU GO

What: Pollinators art exhibit

Where: Art at the CAVE, 108 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through May 31

Free artists’ talk: 1 to 2 p.m. May 18

More details:artatthecave.com or 360-314-6506

“I’m amazed the more I learn about them,” Geffel said. “They’re a superorganism. Everything is for the benefit of the community. Humans can learn a lot from insects.”

Two of the three artists, Sharon Agnor and Kathy Willson, are members of Women Who Weld, a group of metal artists who met during Clark College welding classes. The group has already made several notable contributions to Clark County’s public art, such as Wendy the Welder on the Vancouver waterfront and Wind and Earth in Washougal. Many of the pieces in the pollinator exhibit are made of metal and cast or bent into wild and wonderful natural shapes, such as flying birds, giant flowers and whimsical garden benches. Prices range from $75 for a set of three ceramic bee baths by Willson to a $6,000 metal bloom by Agnor. Many are in the $300 range, said Sharon Svec, gallery manager. She said some pieces can be displayed in a garden or have a kinetic element, meaning that the viewer is meant to move one or more parts of the artwork — essentially, to play with the art.

“There’s one you can touch that moves and bounces just like wheat in the breeze,” Svec said.

Other pieces are interactive in a less obvious way, Svec said. Their reflective surfaces shine light back at the viewer, she said, as though asking for attention. These artworks are intended to encourage viewers to consider their relationship with pollinators.

The piece that greets gallery visitors is Colony Collapse: Rescued, a copper-roofed bee house balanced on a Jenga-like stack of wood. It’s a direct reference to colony collapse disorder, Svec said, in which a colony’s honeybees suddenly disappear, abandoning their queen. The piece suggests precariousness, Svec said, both for pollinators and all the creatures who depend on them for food. The point is emphasized by a flock of silvery metal birds springing out from behind the tipsy hive, poised for flight yet restrained by metal wires anchored in wood.

Svec touched on the similarities between artists and pollinators. The gallery is like a hive where artists gather, working furiously to refine their offerings. The “pollen” of their works finds fertile ground in the minds of beholders, who “can’t get that sculpture out of their heads,” Svec said. Maybe that image helps to change their minds or inspires them to make their own art — or, in this case, let part of their yard revert to meadow.

For that reason, Svec said she believes visitors’ experience with the pollinators exhibit will be essentially hopeful. Indeed, it’s hard to feel anything but cheerful in the presence of so many bees, birds and flowers. As for Geffel, she said she’s most moved by “Paradise Lost,” a dreamy, large-scale painting brushed with shades of purple and lavender.

“It helped me think more about losing what we have because of how we treat our environment — and hopefully how we’re turning around our treatment of the environment,” Geffel said. “These are precious things.”

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