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An Artist’s Homage to Honey

Van Gogh-ing to the Bees

Honeybees, it turns out, are expert connoisseurs of the arts. This may seem beyond the scope of reason. To begin with, why would anyone even wonder about such a thing? But, someone did. According to a 2012 paper published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology, scientists Wen Wu, Antonio M. Moreno, Jason M. Tangen and Judith Reinhard discovered that bees can tell the difference between paintingscreated by Monet, and those by Picasso.

Figure 1 Waterlilies by Monet

“Honeybees (Apis mellifera) have remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extend beyond learning simple colours, shapes or patterns. They can discriminate landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces. This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have ahighly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates. Here, we investigated whether this capacity extends to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style: Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso. We show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they do not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information for discrimination. When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees even demonstrated some ability to generalize. This suggests that honeybees are able to discriminate Monet paintings from Picasso ones by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each painting style. Our study further suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals—from insects to humans—to extract and categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.”

Figure 2 "Tomato Plant III" by Pablo Picasso

Besides being keen observers of the arts, bees are the favorite subjects of certain artisans. Those who appreciate bees can find it difficult to look away. A bee at work draws the viewer into its colorful, miniscule universe of stamen and pistol and grains of pollen, of glittering eyes and transparent fairy-wings. The pigments and detail in the world of bees is depicted in a variety of mediums and expressed in luminous ways.

One doesn’t have to be a connoisseur to know there are many forms of art in which bees can be celebrated.

This lovelyring was created by silversmith Cheryl Van Dyck of Lavender Cottage in Greeneville, Tennessee. She describes it as, “A honey of a ring, with a sweet little bee front and center. Just right for the bee lover or gardener, this cute little ring is a great size for comfortable everyday wear, and is bound to make you smile every time you look at it.”

The bee, which is pure brass, is 3/8" high with a 1/2" wingspan. The band has been hammered into a pebble pattern, and measures just under 1/2" wide. Cheryl even offersa matching pendant and earrings. The ring is priced at $54.00.

“I love bees,” Cheryl writes, “as I am an avid organic gardener, and always planting tasty flowers for them. My garden is the inspiration for many of my pieces. I use old-fashioned traditional metalsmithing techniques using hammer, saw and torch.”

The honeybee is commemorated in these hand-carved rubber stamps by the TC Witchcraft Factory in Plymouth, Minnesota. The item includes a honeycomb stamp and a honeybee stamp, sold as a set for $17.00. The stamps are mounted on sanded pine wood blocks and finished with wax.

Hannah from the Witchcraft Factory writes, “I love scrapbooking. Subjects we pick for our hand carved stamps are basically what I want to use for my scrapbooking. Honey bee and honeycomb set is one of my favorite. I even made tags with the stamps.”

There can’t be a better bow to the bees than the work of artist Beth Sherman, from Santa Cruz, California. Her shop, Honeybee Ceramics, features bee designs in switchplates, clocks and tiles. Among them, she offers an adorable three-inch-by-three-inch bee tile for only $7.00.

These can be used in a tile installation, mosaic project, altar, placed in the garden, on potted plants, in the bathroom or on a windowsill.

“I create ceramic art with honeybee themed designs, because I am inspired by the importance, beauty and industry of honeybees,” Beth writes.“Their role in the ecosystem as pollinators is essential to our nourishment physically by eating food, and spiritually by relishing the beauty and scents of flowers and plants.”

Kathy Mathews, of in Union Bridge, Maryland, created this cute bee ornament using salt dough. It can be displayed on a kitchen cupboard knob or peg. The wire hanger can be easily bent to decorate a basket. It's painted mustard yellow with black accents and sells for $6.95.This piece was first rolled out, hand cut, slowly dried, hand painted, sealed with polyurethane and finally fitted with a black wire hanger.

“All of my creations are salt/bread dough, are not edible but permanent ornaments,” Kathy explains.“Each is 100% designed and handcrafted by me, all marketing, creating, shipping and dreaded bookkeeping is all handled by me so I'm the definition of season orders are event-related, as I offer favors for weddings, baptisms, birthday or shower parties. I chose the adorable bee ornament because I like to have kind of a 'well rounded' selection for customers visiting my stores and people just relate to this ornament. For some reason this bee ornament has always been super popular. I guess honeybees are just cute!”

When one thinks of art, it’s typical to think of flat work like paintings and drawings. This watercolor was done by artist and writer Nancy J. Bailey. “Honeybees are a natural addition to florals, which are normally a still life format. But the presence of bees adds sparkle and movement.”

This piece is 6x9” and is available for $35.

Artist Laura Bucklin from Stafford, Virginia, created this stained glass wreath, with the bee suspended by a chain inside the honeycomb-shaped pieces. The wreath is available for $65.00 in her store, Glass Studio 820.

“I take inspiration from the bees I have kept, myself,” Laura writes.“I started with bees back in 2012 and since then it has been a hard row to hoe with them. I am afraid I am taking a year off from tending to them (they all died this fall, despite feeding, mite treatment, pest management....). I will try again with them in 2018. However, my local bee supplier, Virginia Bee Supply, carried many bee-related items and gifts aside from equipment and supplies. I approached the owner one day and asked him if he would be at all interested in having stained glass pieces for sale in his shop. He said he would. I returned home and started work on making my own designs. Only one of my bee glass items is from a pattern that I did not create. However, in searching Pinterest and Etsy for stained glass bees, or bee pieces I found there were next to none. So I decided I would fix that.

“I select my glass to resemble pollen, honey capped and uncapped brood. I keep in mind what the hive looks like, how the bees act in nature, and know always that bees love flowers! I have other ideas I have not yet made into glass pieces, but I will put them into reality soon as I now have a glass kiln and can do more with bees than the standard copper foil method of glass making will allow me. I have made two plates featuring bees, one of which is listed for sale. The other has some flaws in it that...while the plate is does not meet my standards of acceptable to sell for some obvious (to me) flaws.

“I still love bees and wish to start over with them, but for now I need a break from several years of failure. But I will keep making them in glass.They don't sting this way.”

No matter the medium, whether the bee has been realistically or whimsically portrayed, the affection for the subject is obvious. What better way to share the wonder of the honeybee, than through the eye of an artist? For a species so important to the survival of the planet, every bit of appreciation helps.

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