Along with Jeff Copland, Heather Bean and Ryne Sherman are the proprietors of Syntax Spirits, Greeley’s vodka distillery. They use their building as a studio, gallery, local hang out, and creative space for the growing arts movement in town. Taking on the legal and technical side of building an alcohol producing facility is no small task, and with the side project of filling it with art you have a formula for pretension and ego. Not so here; the staff at Syntax are laid back, friendly, and approachable.
Bean and Ryne create functional metal work with funky industrial designs. Learning from family and friends, they have picked up bits and pieces of technical knowledge over the years, and used that to create works using skills like welding, soldering, steam fitting and steel production. They often experiment with their environment acting as canvas. The tools of distilling are used to make their production vats as well as their Tim Burton-esque art. “[We] roughly consider the entire Syntax Spirits Distillery to be a perpetual show,” said Bean. “We try to make everything interesting to look at, from the handmade copper still columns, to our most recent project, the gate that separates the distillery from the tasting room.”
Bean has many goals with Syntax. Starting college early (age 14!) allowed her to learn many things ahead of the curve and gave her the freedom to dream up many wild projects. From vodka (and now rum and whiskey) to creating the giant gate for their tasting room, Bean loves to make things that “make me happy every time I look at them.”
“I’m really happy when other people enjoy them, and I like showing other people that there’s no reason that functional things have to look boring or standard,” she said. ”The most common comments I get are ‘How did you know how to do that?’ or ‘Where did you find that design?’ I love being able to say I didn’t know how to do it and I’ve never seen anything like it before. We just figured it out! We built a whole distillery that way, and many people think that you have to have some sort of training or follow a pattern in order to do anything. I like challenging that assumption and hope that maybe it will get some folks to learn on their own and try new things themselves.”
The Syntax crew have created a different kind of arts environment in their space. Hosting artists from around town, Syntax is a hub of progressive arts and culture. Bean and Sherman are both patrons and creators.
“On one hand I want to say [I have been creating art] always. On the other hand never,” Bean said. “I’ve always loved to make functional things pretty and pretty things functional, but I’ve rarely had the thought that I’m going to go make some art today when I started a project. I love going out and enjoying all kinds of art that other people make, but I have a virtually impossible time coming up with ideas for projects that aren’t functional in some way. Since I started working with Ryne a couple of years ago, it’s been very cool to see how our ideas play off of each other. [Our] ideas just tend to get better as we mess with them.”
Even though they love the metal work, Bean and Ryne are primarily liquid artists with partner Jeff Copeland. They love to host all manner of creative projects and invite you in to sample their wares and enjoy the view. Stop by Syntax at 625 3rd Street, Unit C in Greeley.