Because Everything Is Better With a Little Bit of Honey
Five Points Center for the Visual Arts in downtown Torrington opened again to the public on June 5, with a show that features the apiary artwork of Randy Orzano of Sharon, Conn.
Anyone who’s driven through the outer edges of Sharon on the way to Millerton, N.Y., has seen Orzano’s work, in a sense. Those are his beehives out in the middle of a grassy field behind the farmhouse he shares with his wife, Gretchen Hachmeister, who is the executive director of the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon.
But as anyone knows who “keeps” bees, you don’t really keep the bees and they’re not really “your” beehives.
This is more true for Orzano than it is for most beekeepers: Rather than boldly determining that he wanted to raise a colony of bees, and buying all the gear, he just kind of found a bunch of discarded bee boxes at the town’s transfer station swap shop several years ago.
He consulted with a friend who’s an experienced bee expert, and then decided to keep the boxes and try to attract and care for a swarm of his own.
He succeeded. Bees live in his boxes in his yard, but really it’s the bees’ domain, one which they will of course defend with determination, as anyone knows who has ever tried to mess around with a hive. That’s why there are beekeeper suits, and special protocols for visiting the hive — and trying to extract the honey that the furry, buzzing colony has grown.
Orzano views the bees with wary respect and abundant appreciation. They not only provide him with honey, they also led him toward a new self image, this time as an artist and not as the civil engineer he used to be before moving to Sharon. They helped unlock the artist in him and free him to see himself in a different way, and to pursue another kind of life.
So already there’s a lot of complexity in the relationship between Randy and the bees.
But there’s more. Orzano is clearly a competent artist. He works in pen and ink and watercolor. His work might catch your eye but not hold it if it weren’t for another layer that he adds on to the images he makes.
It started with his two children, whose lives and growth he began to chronicle some 16 years ago when they were still young, by sketching them. And, as children do, they took his drawings and drew on top of them.
Orzano was fine with that, even intrigued. And when the bees came along and took up residence on his property, and as he got to know them, he began to sketch the bees and then wondered what would happen if he let them have access to his images.
So he slid some of his finished work into the hives and the bees did just what his children used to do: They added their own artistic embellishments, although instead of colored marker they did their work with honey and with something called propolis, also known as “bee glue,” which is a sticky substance that acts kind of like bee plaster. It seals cracks and builds smooth walls. Sometimes they chew up the edges of Orzano’s paper and use it for the beehive. It’s a partnership, just as the honey is a partnership.
Through the years Orzano has added layers to the work, often literally so, by folding the paper and by also inserting canvas into the hive. The bees like it; they use the canvas for their own renovation projects, just as they do with the paper. Sometimes the images that Orzano slips into the hives are of the bees themselves. Sometimes they depict plants. Sometimes they’re large and portrait-like, sometimes they’re small and pattern-like.
See them for yourself at Five Points, which is at the center of the Torrington renaissance.
The gallery is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. and by appointment. All visitors must wear masks and observe social distancing protocols. The show will remain up until July 11.
Five Points is at 33 Main St. in Torrington. Call 860-618-7222 or go to www.fivepointsgallery.org.