Sandhill Crane, 2016, encaustic, mixed media on wood panel, can be found at Big Sky’s Gallatin River Gallery. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GALLERY

Sandhill Crane, 2016, encaustic, mixed media on wood panel, can be found at Big Sky’s Gallatin River Gallery. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GALLERY

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Tucked up in the eaves and accessible only by ladder, artist Lorri Lagerbloom’s home studio is a veritable birdhouse.

Mountain bluebirds, western tanagers, tree swallows, rufous hummingbirds, house finches, belted kingfishers, black-capped chickadees, ravens, and common redpolls inhabit canvases and panels around the room, enlivening the small, but light and airy workspace with the dashes of color, line and life that define them.

The thoughtfulness Lagerbloom put into designing her Ramshorn neighborhood home is mirrored and magnified by the deep consideration she pours into each individual work of art. Both convey the artist’s admitted obsession with the color white—from her artfully minimalistic interior, like a blank canvas itself, to her attempt to capture the essence of her subject with the fewest marks.

Both home and art also speak to the importance of process for the artist in terms of cultivating connection with space and place.

Lagerbloom depicts birds that she has likely seen while immersed in her rivaling passion for gardening, or, in a gesture of summoning, wants to see. Lagerbloom is not yet entirely satisfied with the level of engagement she feels with some of her new, smaller pieces that keep with this tradition but entail a more painterly process than the highly tactile encaustic, mixed media style that has defined her work thus far.

Examples of Lagerbloom’s customary technique are laid out on her work table, in which a series of owls—a great-horned, snowy, great gray and burrowing—are beginning to sculpturally emerge from a whitewash of muslin, spackle and wax, to be accented with color only upon near completion.

“The process is very important to me,” Lagerbloom said. “I’m drawn to making images, but I need to feel like I’m building something, more so than painting it.”

Mountain Bluebird #3 (Male and Female), 2016, encaustic, mixed media on wood panel, are on display at Gallatin River Gallery in Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GALLERY

Mountain Bluebird #3 (Male and Female), 2016, encaustic, mixed media on wood panel, are on display at Gallatin River Gallery in Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GALLERY

The artist may still be sussing out the nuances of her relationship with her new work, but these smaller pieces also involve a multi-layered process of heat-gun fused wax, etching, palette knife painting and buffing. The resulting works have an amber-like depth, and imagery that is both smudged and sharp, impressionistic and exact, and finished with a dashed off quality that belies their laboriousness.

Our attraction to birds, whether for reasons as simple as their plumed beauty or for their more mystical connotations, is near universal, but also deeply personal for Lagerbloom.

The artist grew up on a 25-acre family compound in New York’s Hudson River Valley, surrounded by nature and four generations of eccentric family members. Every summer and winter, Lagerbloom would spend a week with her grandparents—also nature lovers and artists—in New Hampshire.

With great sensory detail, Lagerbloom recounts how her grandfather—a talented wood carver, furniture builder and naturalist—would start a project with her in his shop, where the wood stove would be burning, classical music playing, and out the window, a stand of lofty white pines leading down to the pond. Meanwhile her “Moo Moo” (the Finnish nickname for grandma)—a painter, quilter, chef and baker—would have started a sewing project with Lagerbloom inside the house.

One of her most gilded memories from that time was the early morning ritual of walking the property with her grandfather to feed the ducks and geese on the pond, and filling the woodpecker and the songbird feeders. Later, in the early evening, she and her grandparents would sit together in lawn chairs and watch for winged visitors.

“When I moved here [seven years ago], I wanted to make artwork that would help me connect to this place more, to find a deeper sense of place here,” Lagerbloom said. “But also connect me to the place I had come from, in the family sense. My artwork was my way to help that process move along. It’s a nonlinear process but it has connected me in a way that I’ve been looking for—and even though I can’t quite verbalize it, it feels like important work somehow.”

Lorri Lagerbloom’s artwork can be found at Gallatin River Gallery in Big Sky Town Center, where she is currently part of the annual group exhibition “Earth & Sky XVII” which closes on Saturday, Feb. 4. Her work can also be viewed online at tallgrassstudioarts.com and gallatinrivergallery.com.