Allison Leigh Smith’s “Essential Workers” showcases bees

by Nick Gonzales

Studio & Gallery, known locally as Studio &, in downtown Durango is full of bees. At least its Recess Gallery is —and the bees are paintings.

If you’re not familiar with Studio &’s Recess Gallery, it’s an 8-cubic-feet nook in the back of the gallery. All of the works are 5-by-7 inches or smaller and sell for $100. Artists rotate through the tiny gallery on a monthly basis.

The apis art is all part of Allison Leigh Smith’s “Essential Workers” series, a project creating life-sized depictions of vital members of the community. The show opened on Aug. 6.

“Essential workers is such an important theme in our community, and these are the perfect symbol of that,” she said. “Bees are diligent and community-minded; they’re producing, and as a result, what they do helps the world around them — it’s symbolic of these central workers that we’re appreciating more than ever.”

If you really know your bugs, you’ll notice by the orange stripes that some of the subjects of the paintings are Bombus huntii, or Hunt’s bumblebees, a local species. They’re the ones pollinating those tomato plants you’ve been growing during quarantine.

“I wanted it to be light and bright. We wanted to do something really uplifting,” Smith said.

The artistry isn’t limited to the paintings themselves, either. As part of the project, Smith’s partner, Bryce Pettit, hand-sculpted the ornate frames for the miniature works. Bryce has been playing around with miniaturizing his sculptures by having them scanned with a laser and printed on a smaller scale — jewelry-sized — with a 3D printer, he said. He did the same for the “Essential Workers,” carving a baroque frame and then printing it in resin.

If Smith and Pettit sound familiar, it might be because they are the artists behind “Common Threads,” the art fixture depicting bears, birds, mountains, and similar scenes cut into metal panels. The installation of the panels, which was supposed to be installed last fall at the U.S. Highway 550/160 interchange in Durango, has been delayed indefinitely.

Those familiar with the work of either artist will notice that their work revolves heavily around animals and the natural world.

“It’s an analogy,” Smith said. “When I want to talk about strength, I paint a wolf … I recently did a rattlesnake, and that talked about the ability to be fearsome but also important and beautiful — able to defend what’s important to oneself.”

People must have thought Smith’s first round of paintings were the bee’s knees — because they sold out within 24 hours. Last we heard from her, she was busy at work painting up a second round.

If you happen to be on the road next month, you can also check out Smith’s work at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where, in September, she will be part of a show for the second time. Pettit’s work can be spotted in a number of galleries across the western United States.

In the meantime, to see Smith’s painted pollinators, make a beeline to the backroom of Studio & and hang a left the moment you get through the doorway.

Nick Gonzales

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