It is a family affair at Benicia Public Library’s art gallery. The new exhibition “Gathering Tribes” features the work of not one, not two but three artists who are all related either by blood or through marriage.
The artists showcased are Vicki Byrum Dennis, a Gallerie Renee Marie member; her sister and HQ Gallery member Joyce Byrum; and Byrum’s husband Les Overlock, a former longtime Liberty High School art teacher who has contributes “The Buzz” and “The Buzzard” to the Herald every Thursday since 2008.
The show is titled “Gathering Tribes: Two Sisters and an Outlaw,” with Overlock serving as the outlaw. The three artists are exhibiting works that explore the themes of relationships and how individuals connect to their “tribes.” The pieces are accompanied by short written pieces by the artists on what tribes they belong to.
“We kept kicking around this theme,” Dennis said. “We had the name of it, and we knew we were going to be working in the realm of family relationships, connections, even family extended to community and animals.”
For Dennis, the concept of tribes started out with family. She and her sister were originally from Kentucky and had a lot of cousins. From there, she said that people develop their tribe of friends and then go to school where their tribes “expand or become more identifiable.”
Dennis moved to Benicia in 2014, where Byrum and Overlock were already living.
“That’s a principle reason why we came three years ago,” she said, “to rejoin our tribe.”
With the move, came a whole new set of tribes for Dennis to join, including a new group of friends and a tribe of artists.
“Since I’ve been here, Benicia’s been so welcoming that now I feel like I’m part of other robes as well,” she said.
Byrum has also been part of her own tribes. Her mother always encouraged her to become a nurse, so she went to nursing school and remains working as a psychiatric nurse. In addition to being part of a medical tribe, she also sees herself as being part of an art tribe ever since she took a ceramics class in college as an elective.
“I was hooked,” she said. “I’ve never stopped. I’ve had this love affair with clay, and it’s been the longest relationship I’ve had with anyone other than my original family.”
Overlock is an in-law for Dennis, but he also sees himself as an outlaw with the tribes he has been a part of.
“(The label) couldn’t typify me any better,” he said. “From the beginning, I rebelled against many of the archetypes. I didn’t really want to be associated with the economic tribe, which my family aspired to be a part of a tribe that makes money. That wasn’t my goal.”
Overlock said he broke away as an artist.
“My goal was more to learn how to do something creative,” he said. “It’s nice to get paid, but being a writer has its own tribe. But many writers, if you ask them, would say they’re lone tribesmen.”
Overlock said part of the reason he enjoyed teaching at Liberty was that the students were in a unique tribe of their own.
“Everybody there had their own outlaw story,” he said. “It was a perfect fit.”
The works featured all fit within the theme of family and other connections. Dennis’ and Overlock’s pieces are a mixture of watercolors, acrylics and mixed media. Byrum’s pieces are all clay.
“I have fewer pieces than they do, but they’re definitely about relationships,” she said.
One of Byrum’s sculptures, “The Nesting,”is the bust of a woman with a dove resting on her head and three baby birds in a nest below her. The dove represents Byrum’s late mother, and the three birds represent Byrum and her brother and sister.
“When I think of her (my mother), I think of a peace dove,” she said.
Dennis had come up with the idea for the three of them to apply to a library exhibit because they felt that they could not fill the space individually. She hopes the combined efforts of all three artists will give viewers a wider understanding of the family concept.
“Family is bigger than just your blood relatives,” she said. “Family is the sense of belonging to a tribe, and that tribe can be defined as a tribe of artists, a tribe of friends, a tribe of family, a tribal relationship within nature.”
“Gathering Tribes” is on display at the Library’s Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Gallery through Wednesday, Nov. 29. There will be a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29 and an Ekphrastic Poetry event with the Benicia First Tuesday Poetry Group from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19. The Library is located at 150 East L St. and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and noon to 6 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. For more information, contact the Library at 746-4343.