By Cecilia LaFrance
Leslie Anne Bitgood flits around the booths in the small art gallery. Like a classroom mother, she chats with the other volunteers and politely greets the evening’s early guests to the monthly 40 West First Friday Art Walk. Cases and wall racks display the works of aspiring local artist, and the spunky lean retiree is on duty at the Lakewood Arts Studio. Her alert blue eyes welcome inquiries for the beads, marbles, pendants, and jewelry arranged for display. “This is my booth, my work.”
A few probing questions reveal more behind the shiny, colorful array in front of her. “To me glass is magical because you can do so much with it.” Appreciation croons in her voice, the transformative medium is a complementary fit to Bitgood’s ever-changing artistic expression. The fact that she’s stayed with the craft since an introduction at a bead show 18 years ago seems to be a surprise to her, but also happens to be the greatest pride of her crafting.
The smooth and colorful glass pieces refuse to offer a unique motif or relation among themselves. Rather, true to Bitgood’s preference for avoiding a niche, her goods better reflect the variety in an aviary. “I’m constantly changing. I’m constantly trying new things. . . . I figure you only get one go around. So, I’m going to try it all.” The modest price tags attached to the brilliant colors lure a bargain shopper to find the gem of the flock.
The booth represents just a fragment of Bitgood’s Crazy Woman Glass business. Introducing others to glasswork adds to the revenue. In a 6-hour small group session held in her double-car garage studio, Bitgood teaches others the tools and craft of torch and kiln work to transform Italian glass rods into beads. “My business grows every year. It’s going where I want it to go.” Her perfect posture and white turtle neck under a seasonally-appropriate sweater don’t call her out as an artist, let alone provide explanation for her Crazy Woman label. “Who’s going to remember lamp work by Leslie?” Even her logo is sensible, based on the petroglyph art in the Wyoming Crazy Woman Creek, orange mountain’s representing her home state of 40 years, all set against a blue moon. “That’s what it will be if I make it in this business.”
Her simple start became complex quickly. “I bought a torch, then a kiln, and had stained glass in another room. My husband said we either had to build something or move.” Seven years ago, after a forced retirement from a 20-year career in oil and gas, Bitgood had more time to pour into art.
Manning the counters at the small co-op studio tucked in a corner of a Colfax strip mall represents another facet of Bitgood’s work. A member of a philanthropic education organization, Bitgood jumped onboard a grassroots effort to establish an arts district in a depleted stretch of businesses along Colfax in east Lakewood. “I scrubbed toilets or did whatever it took.” The 40 West Certified Creative District now boasts an art line complete with sculpture installments and a handful of studios. At the Lakewood Arts Studio, Bitgood volunteers her time, fulfilling the co-op commitment while also promoting the studio memberships. “We want to get the whole local community involved.” The mission extends further than art patronage into igniting future revitalization in the area.
A tarot card reading earlier in the evening confirmed a wind of change. Bitgood recounts the main message of her fortune. “One great big idea is brewing and I’m to let it happen. Who knows what that means?” Bitgood says with a hint of hope and promise.