Helen Beekman, an artist who works primarily with hay and bronze, explained how she constructs her art pieces and what her inspiration in for her sculptures as part of a reception for her collection “Hayworks” on Thursday, Jan. 21.
Beekman grew up surrounded by hay in Menlo Park and Inverness, California, used hay on a whim to make a sculpture. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is really cool,’” Beekman said. From that, she has made a variety of hay sculptures, ranging from a horse to fireworks. “I thought including hay in fire was a great idea,” Beekman said.
The hay artwork began primarily as abstract images. One of Beekman’s pieces, titled “Hay Pollack” draws inspiration from Jackson Pollock’s methods of art. “Because Jackson Pollock through his paint around, and I throw my hay around,” Beekman said. She also does a number of her sculptures and composite works on the floor of her studio, similarly to Pollock’s method of painting.
However, as her work progressed, Beekman shifted to themes exploring what images mean to individuals. Two of her in a series she did on language titled “Calligraphy” and “Hieroglyphics” uses hay to mimic scrolls and languages. “My concept was to make you see something you know as a language, but it’s really just a ruse,” Beekman said. “I actually studied [scrolls] for awhile trying to make sure they looked legitimate.” Beekman also included a series that focused on sign language in her gallery. She said she again wanted to focus on “what becomes a common knowledge through the visual.”
Beekman dyes all of the hay for her work herself, often using acrylic paint. Alyson Courtney, a junior taking a class in sculpture, said, “It looks like she puts a lot of time and effort in. She has to dye all the hay and put it together.” Beekman does all of the sculpting of her artwork while the acrylic paint on the hay dries. “Before it’s all dried I can navigate it, move it around and shape it,” she said.
The sculptures are primarily two-dimensional works on a canvas using three-dimensional materials. Despite this, Beekman does not feel limited by her art. “I think it’s very liberating,” Beekman said. She added that some of her pieces are unframed and are three-dimensional; however, she believes framing to be an important aspect of art. “When [art pieces] get framed there’s a reflective value to them, but that’s not a bad thing,” Beekman said.
Senior art major Kelly Brenowitz, who also focuses primarily on sculptures in her art, said that the exhibit helped inform her own understanding of art. “I find this show very inspiring. Someone who has made the jump from 3D to 2D and still incorporates 3D elements. Usually 2D art is just paintings,” Brenowitz said. She added that, as someone who prefers to work with earthy materials such as stone, the diversity of Beekman’s art is unique. “I really like all the texture,” Brenowitz said. “They’re all hay, but they’re all different.” Brenowitz also said seeing the textures, despite relying primarily on hay for material, was skillful.
Beekman’s art has also been displayed New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas, California and Connecticut. Some of her work is permanent collections at the New-York Historical Society in New York and the Cape Ann Museum and Historical Society in Massachusetts. Beekman’s work will be in the Hess Gallery in Zug Memorial Hall through March 11 and a display title “Hayworks and other Mixed Media Works” will be located in the Susquehanna Center for the Creative Arts (SCCA) in Columbia, Pennsylvannia from Jan. 22 to March 19. She will do a reception on Feb. 26 ad the SCCA.