Bebe Keith, an artist based in Lanesboro, cuts glass for an ongoing mosaic project. Keith is the featured artist for Great River Shakespeare Festival’s 13th season, and she’s created four works of art representing each of the plays.
by LAURA HAYES
When Lee Gundersheimer came on board the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) as managing director, he began to look for ways to further the organization’s community-minded mission. One idea was to have a local featured artist collaborate with GRSF staff to create works of art representative of the season and the selected plays.
For the past three years, GRSF has partnered with local painters Julia Crozier and Peter Sandker, but this year they decided to tread down a different path and selected mosaicist Bebe Keith as the featured artist for GRSF season 13.
Gundersheimer said that during his back and forth partnership with Lanesboro he discovered her work. He traveled to her Lanesboro home, nestled on top of a wooded bluff, where the two discussed some of the major themes of this season’s plays — Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” and “As You Like It” and the musical “Georama” by West Hyler and Matt Schatz.
“I’m such a huge fan of Bebe’s work that it doesn’t surprise me that she was so great to collaborate with,” he said. “I think her work is exquisite.”
Around 20 years ago, Keith attempted to make her first mosaic after taking a stained glass window class. “I had some scraps that were just sitting around. Finally, I decided to just try to make a mosaic with it,” she said.
However, her career as a mosaicist took off several years later when she made a large mosaic of Queen Gertrude from Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet.” She entered the work in the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Competition, winning second place in the glass category in 2004.
“I was encouraged to keep going and I did it more and more and made it into a career,” Keith said. Prior to becoming a professional artist, Keith was an elementary school teacher and a freelance graphic designer, creating art on the side. “I’ve always loved doing art for fun. Throughout the years, I’ve tried weaving, Ukrainian egg dying, woodcarving — I love it all. Mosaics just happened to be something that really resonated with me,” she said.
Keith has gained notoriety for her glass mosaics with work featured throughout the region such as the school of nursing at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and a commission for 23 kaleidoscope mosaics for the University of Iowa. Recently, she has been venturing into other art forms and types of mosaics, some of which can be seen in the four works that she created for the GRSF season.
For the main season image which is used for GRSF’s promotional material, posters, and website, Keith created a large glass mosaic featuring elements from each of the three shows, such as an eagle and raven from “Julius Caesar” and a deer and poems hanging from tree boughs from “As You Like It.”
“Lee came over once and we brainstormed some ideas together for all four projects. He was an inspiration to try four different types of art. The main one being a glass mosaic, but branching out for the others,” Keith said.
For "Georama," which is a musical about the artist John Banvard who created a long panorama of the Mississippi River, Keith created her own panorama of the view beneath the Mississippi. “I thought that it would be fun to do something similar,” she said.
“Lee [Gundersheimer] had said something about words being an important part of the theme of this season, so I tried to include words in three of the pieces,” Keith said. Words are featured in the main season work of art as well as her pieces for "As You Like It" and "Julius Caesar."
In "As You Like It," Orlando writes poems for the protagonist Rosalind that he hangs from the branches of trees in the Forest of Arden. To mimic this, Keith created a mobile featuring branches and strips of paper with Orlando’s poems written on them.
For "Julius Caesar," Keith created a paper mosaic featuring a raven sitting on top of a pile of money. She explained that the piece is supposed to evoke the theme of money and power, with a raven guarding its turf.
“We want the art to inspire a lot of discussion as we want the plays to do,” Gundersheimer said. “There’s no reason to do art that doesn’t provoke interesting conversation.”
Currently, the pieces are housed in the GRSF offices. A silent auction will be held for the works of art during the festival. Proceeds will go back to Keith. GRSF’s 13th season will run from June 22 to July 31. Tickets can currently be purchased at www.grsf.org. To see more of Keith’s work, visit www.bebekeith.com.