Shrewd Apes

Covington-based gallery/boutique owners crowdsource their art project, You & Me Across the Sea

Nov 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm
click to enlarge Tiny versions of Hilary Nauman and Michael Boyd with family in “The Gathering,” taken in Llanfairfechan, Wales
Tiny versions of Hilary Nauman and Michael Boyd with family in “The Gathering,” taken in Llanfairfechan, Wales


ilary Nauman and Michael Boyd began their joint artistic endeavors more than four years ago, when they first started dating. “We both started doing more artwork as soon as we got together,” Nauman says. “It was one of those nice relationships where I think we both kinda got a little more inspired.”

Boyd, who works in watercolor as well as more technical drawing, has a graphic design degree from Vincennes University and briefly attended the Herron School of Art; Nauman is largely self-taught. She started out making miniature creatures and photographing them on the street, and now incorporates them into standalone terrariums, but also makes driftwood necklaces and diminutive drawings, all while continuing to photograph.

After a few years of working the local and regional outdoor craft market circuit together (City Flea, Second Sunday on Main, Hyde Park Art Show, etc.), they decided to open Shrewdness of Apes, a brick-and-mortar gallery/craft boutique on Seventh Street in Covington, Ky.

“We just kind of fell into the space, but it’s perfect for us,” Nauman says.

One of the things that drew them to the area is the city’s art advocacy. “They even have an art director,” Nauman says.

Their space is a small storefront occupying a portion of what was as recently as 2012 known as the Passionate Arts Center. It faces the new Covington Arts Center, a soon-to-be opened brewery and the newer performance park, MadLot — all part of the city’s pull to become a destination for cultural events via an arts renaissance.

But shortly after they signed their lease in April 2013, Nauman’s mother got sick and passed away, so the gallery “took a back seat for awhile,” the duo says. Boyd and Nauman traveled, using the time to commemorate the life of Nauman’s mother and to make art to work through those feelings.

As part of a photographic series they began during their travels, Nauman took photos of her mom’s housecoat, which Boyd would toss into the air so that it would look like the garment was flying over the horizon.

“The idea was that she would come with us and we could look at that later and think about her,” she says. “We could take a picture and she could see Norway.”

When they began planning their wedding, the series evolved into photographing a cut-out photo of Nauman’s mom placed around Cincinnati landscapes, which they called “Tiny You.” The couple decided that they wanted to continue to incorporate art into their honeymoon travels, and You & Me Across the Sea was born.

Nauman and Boyd made an Indiegogo campaign this past August to crowdsource not only the funding for their trip abroad, but also the kind of artwork that they wanted to make for the upcoming exhibit.

Depending on what their sponsors chose to fund, Boyd and Nauman would make Tiny Yous for their supporters, leave Post-it notes with personal messages, do chalk drawings in public spaces, send back postcards with hand-painted monsters, create googly-eyed miniatures from found objects and more — all of which they photographed and sent back to their funders in thanks.

For example, three different commissioned photographic series involved the street photography of 50 dogs, women and pubs.

“I met all kinds of fantastic, interesting people just walking up and saying, ‘Can I take a picture of your dog?’ ” Nauman says.

Some would say yes, others no, but more often than not, those they met would strike up a conversation about why they were asking.

The project plays upon the couple’s interest in the journey of an object as well as gives them an excuse to engage with local communities on their travels. As Nauman tells it, the process “let other people get to be a part of it and have them direct us in a way that would influence our artwork.”

Another project that Boyd and Nauman proposed in their Indiegogo campaign was titled “Magical Monuments.” The two created diminutive ephemeral installations of found objects (rocks, sticks, etc.) in public spaces. Nauman says that while these were not permanent installations, they would strike a wondrous chord in the viewer.

This penchant for serendipitous experiences demonstrates a common thread throughout Boyd and Nauman’s work. Whereas she creates seemingly supernatural spaces, Boyd paints watercolor portraits on demand and takes his supplies with him when they travel. It is a pragmatic approach to art that might seem frivolous.

“[It’s] art that just makes you smile,” Nauman says. “You put it on a bookshelf; you don’t have to have a gallery light on it.” 

It is easy to see the affection these two newlyweds have not only for each other, but also for their creative output. When Nauman’s speech breaks with emotion about her mom, the soft-spoken Boyd pipes in to fill in the gaps. They seem to make sense — both as creative collaborators and as a couple.

When asked about what their definition of success might look like, Nauman quickly responds, “This is going to sound super corny, but that first day we signed the lease, I felt like it was a success. We did it. We just did it.” ©

YOU & ME ACROSS THE SEA opens Saturday at Shrewdness of Apes, 32 W. Seventh St., Covington, Ky. More info: