By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Twenty giant honeybees have just landed high on the sides of two buildings on downtown De Pere’s west side.
There’s a flying pig overhead, and three larger than life-size salmon-hued flamingos seem to stand guard.
Our mothers always warned us about waking up in alleyways, and now we understand why.
The fronds of tropical plants swish in the breeze.
Urban-rustic benches made of smooth-as-a-baby’s-butt poured concrete and buffed wood beckon to tired lumbar regions.
Beekeepers in full astronaut-like regalia mingle with flaxen-haired nature goddesses and images connoting the planet, ideas and humankind.
All this in an alley in downtown De Pere, between a tailor and a couple of restaurants.
“I always wondered why no one had outdoor fine art exhibits,” said photographer and mixed media artist Shannon Koltz of Studio Rouge.
She and fellow artist Naomi Moes Jenkins teamed up to transform the once-weedy gap between Nicky’s Lionhead Restaurant and T. Alterations/Gyro Kabobs in the 300 block of Main Avenue into a showplace sans ceiling.
It’s believed to be the first outdoor fine art exhibit in the region, and was unveiled Thursday, Sept. 5.
Definitely De Pere commissioned the project, which is part of its ongoing mission to make art accessible by placing it outdoors, where it can be seen by anyone and requires no art degree or admission fee.
Moes Jenkins and Koltz said the city gave them very few limitations in subject matter or style.
“We appreciated being able to use our creativity without too many boundaries or restrictions,” Koltz said. “They encouraged us to do what we wanted instead of what we thought they wanted us to do.”
The exhibit calls attention to the honeybee and its role in agriculture, food production and the environment.
Moes Jenkins created the resin-and-fiberglass honeybee sculptures, the flamingos (in honor of De Pere’s Pink Flamingo softball tournament), the flying pig and decorative screens.
Koltz came up with the series of mounted and framed collage portraits that blend photography and graphics into surreal, dreamlike vignettes, with the hexagonal repetition of the honeycomb a prominent feature.
Friend of the artists, Tim Corey of Green Bay, made the cast-concrete and wood benches.
He said he doesn’t do it professionally, but just pitched in to help.
Another friend, William Forsche of De Pere, formerly of Hollywood, California, helped Moes Jenkins with casting molds for the bee sculptures.
Forsche has done special effects for movies, including “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Roadhouse,” and “Ghostbusters.”
He said De Pere wasn’t nearly as art-oriented 30 years ago as it is today.
“Social media has brought it all together, allowing artists to show their work on a scale they otherwise couldn’t achieve,” Forsche said. “It lets artists see what other artists in other cities are doing and gather ideas for their own work.”
Moes Jenkins thanked the city for not holding them back.
“It’s a serious and important subject,” Moes Jenkins said of honeybees’ complex relationship to the greater world. “This is art that makes you think, not art that thinks for you.”
The art pieces, even the pictures, are weather-proof and will remain in the alley for five years – winters included.
Koltz said she’d been photographing beehives for a beekeeper friend before the project with De Pere came about and thought they were neat.
“When De Pere made a call out for art, I said ‘Let’s do outdoor art – why not?’” she said.
Since launching the weatherproof portraits for the exhibit, she’s begun selling art to people for their gardens.
Though social media has done much to bring artists and ideas together, Forsche said it has its limits.
Nodding at the finished alley, he said, “This is way better than seeing it online.”