Whitney Nye, Daniela Molnar, and Pattie Baker: Pollinators in Visual Art



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Winged is a literary anthology, and we’re excited to feature written work about humans and bees from a wide range of artists. But there are also many artists creating visual work in response to pollinators– their beauty, their industry, and the unfolding story of their decline. While we can’t include visual art in our printed anthology, we want to feature it here. Below, the stories behind three artists and their paintings.
Whitney Nye’s work as a visual artist draws on pattern, texture, and movement.  She is especially interested in patterns of repetition, which is evident in her sensitive honeycomb-inspired canvas Honey, currently on display at the Portland Airport. Nye was gracious enough to let us showcase this piece on the blog, and she describes the process in detail below. For more on her work, please visit her website. Currently, she’s also at work on a fascinating collaborative project at the city dump: GLEAN. Nye and other participating artists are busy gleaning materials from the Metro Central Transfer Station, to make art that prompts others to think about their consumption habits. The finished work will be displayed this fall. Honey


Whitney writes:
“This piece titled ‘Honey’ is made from old sewing pattern tissue.  The pink section of the piece is colored with gouache, and the natural colored sections of the piece is the actual color of the tissue paper. The paper was then cut into circles and glued on one circle at a time.  The layering created a honeycomb-like pattern and reminded me of eating honeycomb when I was a child.  The process of collaging on such a large scale is somewhat difficult, physically getting into the middle of the panel.  I worked on this flat, over a period of a month or so.  A meditative and somewhat obsessive process.”
Daniela Molnar created the beautiful images of bees on our landing page and “About” page. Her generous, curious spirit has led her to create an impressive body of work that explores the intersections of art, culture, and nature. She’s an active public artist engaged in a wide range of solitary and collaborative projects, and she’s also a dedicated teacher. See more of her work here, and check out her upcoming project Summer Field Studies at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. Below, she reflects on the story behind her piece Mimicry, Dispersal II.mimicry,-dispersal-II-web
Daniela writes: “This painting is part of a series that focuses on the fluid movement, as well as the precise structure of flowers. These works are both color field paintings and botanical studies, exploring how patterns in nature are perceived, named and understood. The works question habits of naming and perception — when is a flower no longer a flower? When does a flower cease to be a noun and become a verb? Envisioning nature as an interconnected process rather than a collection of distinct objects highlights the delicate web necessary to sustain the lives of all earth’s inhabitants, including bees.”
When Pattie Palmer Baker submitted work for Winged this winter, she wondered if we were also interested in visual art. A poet, collagist, and calligrapher, she told us about a piece she had created in response to last June’s Safari-related bee kill in Wilsonville. Her calligraphic style is based on the 8th century Carolingian alphabet and her paste paper process is adapted from a 17th century decorated paper technique. We’re grateful for Baker’s work and for her support of this project.
4. 50,000 Bumblebees Die_PattiePalmer-Baker-1
Pattie writes: “Earlier this year up to fifty thousand bumblebees were poisoned by an insecticide not to be used in the presence of bees. The image of the bumblebees falling, scrabbling, dying on the asphalt haunted me–  so much so that I wrote a poem and created two artworks to express my outrage and grief. Most of us are aware that the pollinating ability of bees is profoundly necessary, but personally and anthropomorphically I grieved because I see them as uniquely beautiful beings working unfailingly for the good of the many.”

Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “Stairway to Heaven”

New York’s Hive City

Browsing poems online, we recenly ran across a beautiful example of how the metaphor-rich world of honey bees can lead writers into a wide range of subject matter.

In “Stairway to Heaven,” poet Alison Hawthorne Deming reflects on her brother’s battle with cancer and her own grief. Here are the opening lines:

The queen grows fat beneath my house
while drones infest the walls


reconnaissance to feed her glut,
wood ripped from studs and joists.

I’ll pay to drill the slab and ruin
her pestilential nest. How to find

the song in this day’s summons?

Of the composition process, Deming writes: “I can’t seem to stop carrying my brother around on my back since he died in May 2011. I think of the way Aeneas carried his father Anchises out of defeat, but the stuff of my days is all here on the horizontal plane: termites, cancer, Led Zeppelin, and my devotion to the animal world. These all fell together one day into this poem.”

Read the full poem at the Academy of American Poets.

Kat Nesbit: Bees at the Truckstop Diner

145-Honey Bee Diner (88)

It was 2:29 AM. I was wolfing down a steak at a truckstop diner, in between spreading pallets of bees in the pear orchards. A bee popped out of my sleeve while I was ordering and I quickly scooped her up and held her in my hand. She hadn’t stung and was intact, so she had a chance if I got her back to a hive.

But the waitress had noticed. Her eyes got large as she asked, “What was that?”

I tried to look casual and innocent: “Nothing.” But she persisted, “Was that was a bee?”

I nodded reluctantly, and she asked me to take it outside, which I did. Later, she came over and said, “Can I ask you something? If I hadn’t seen that bee, would you have just held it the whole meal?” I shrugged—I hadn’t thought that far ahead—and she said, “I’ve never seen anything like that. You must really love your bees.”

It made me tremendously happy to realize she was absolutely right, I really do love them. Then she said, “I’m going to have to look up honey bees and read about them.”

That was the honey on the hot bun!

Kat Nesbit raises bees in southern Oregon, and hosts the annual Treatmeant-free Beekeeping Conference. This post was originally published on Bliss Honeybees.

Bringing Back the Pollinators

A huge thank you to Garden Fever Nursery and the Xerces Society for hosting a great lecture last Saturday morning. Seats were filled for “Bringing Back the Pollinators,” an informative lecture from Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black.

Black gave an overview of the current threats to pollinators and effective solutions. He talked about the role of native bees, and while their future seems dim, Black spoke of his hope for real change. He has seen tangible, positive results from Xerces’ efforts to renew pollinator health.

I especially loved his story about Sabin Elementary, a school in Portland that responded creatively to the discovery of native bee nests on their ball field. Rather than panic, the school contacted Xerces to learn more about the pollinator they were hosting. It turned out to be a stingless bee in the genus Andrena, and at an estimated 20,000 bees, the nest site was one of the largest Xerces had documented.

Turning the discovery into a learning opportunity, Sabin and Xerces involved students in an effort to preserve the nests and provide forage habitat for these amazing pollinators. The kids even got to hold the bees, which they dubbed “tickle bees” for the way the bees tickled their palms. The result? Sabin Elementary: Home of the Tickle Bees.


I left the lecture feeling newly inspired to take action. Here are a few things I’d like to do, based on Xerces’ four principles for pollinator conservation:

  • Habitat. Build native bee nest boxes as Christmas gifts, along with instructions and a packet of region-specific, pollinator-friendly wildflower seeds. A free document with nest box dimensions is available here, and you can find a list of the right plants for your area here.
  • Plants. Reframe my position on big-box stores where plants are sold, like Home Depot and Fred Meyer. When I learned that many chain stores sell plants that have been pre-treated with chemicals, I thought the best solution was to buy elsewhere. But Black pointed out that in doing so, I’m missing an opportunity for dialogue that might create change. I’ll try asking store managers about the plants they sell, and explain why it’s important to me to know their sources.
  • Pesticides. Finally have a talk with my neighbors’ landlord, who sprays the perimeter of his property (and mine) every year. I’ve been afraid to talk to him about it, but I’d like to find out what he’s using and explain my concerns.
  • Share. Invite friends to sign the pollinator pledge. A quick post is by far the easiest task, but also easy to miss in the promotion of worthy causes this time of year. Every week, I’ll try to send out a few personalized emails.

What about you? How will you take action to bring back the pollinators?


More Than Honey

From Swiss director Markus Imhoof, the film More Than Honey features macro-lens footage of bees and explores the fate of honey bee colonies around the world. Reviewers seem perplexed by the film’s tone, which they describe as less alarmist than previous documentaries Vanishing of the Bees and Queen of the Sun. Having missed this summer’s screening here in Portland, we’re considering hosting a screening so we can find out for ourselves. Meantime, you can watch the trailer here.

Bee-Man, or Adventures in Anthology Editing

Listening to “This American Life” this weekend, a repeat from 2001.

I catch the tail end of a segment on bad comic book superheroes, and in the description of a 1960’s character named Bee-Man, I hear a description of myself:


Ira Glass: If you were to explain to people the characteristics of a bad comic book superhero–?

Jonathan Morris: There are obviously a lot of ways you can screw up. One of the ways is to just overdo it and cram the elements of the character down the readers’ throats. One of the characters was Bee-Man and everything about him was bees. His full name was Barry E. Eames. He was attacked by mutant bees which were sent to earth by space alien bee people. And he himself became a mutant bee person who had bee powers, and lived in a hive, and ate honey, and stole gold because gold looked like honey. And he could sting you.

There was nothing bee-related this man refused to do. If you meet somebody at a bar, you start talking to him, and you realize, he only has one interest in life– that’s exactly what Bee-Man was. Everything would have gotten back to bees. You start talking about what you watched on television last. He’ll say, you know, I saw an interesting show on bees.

These days, I’m a little like Bee-Man.

Friends and family ask what I’m reading, and I’m hard-pressed to come up with a title that doesn’t have to do with bees. I’m reading everything I can about bees, scouring anthologies and single-author volumes of poetry for depictions of bees, haunting the insect section at the library. I’ve been watching bee documentaries and YouTube clips on bees and TED talks about bees.

Online? I’m checking out articles about honey, beekeeping, pesticides, herbicides, best gardening practices for pollinators. I took a break this afternoon and sat outside, reading The Little Book of Bees by Karl Weiss. I learned how to make nest boxes for native bees. (You can, too!)

Lest I turn out like Bee-Man, I shut the computer on the weekend and get outside in the garden. Sometimes, a bee visits, her impossibly fragile wings catching the sunlight. She is far less hurried and concerned than I am. She reminds me there is time, in spite of how urgent everything can feel, to enjoy the pure gift of a sunny autumn day.


Image: Dial B for Blog

Dance of the Honey Bee

Have you seen this recent short film from Bill Moyers?

Conservation writer and activist Bill McKibben narrates “Dance of the Honey Bee,” explaining how important bees are for our ecosystem, celebrating their beauty, and highlighting the human practices that threaten their health and ours.

We couldn’t agree more with his take-home message: What we can do to help bees is exactly the same thing we can do to help ourselves.

The footage itself is breath-taking, with a macro lens view of bees in flight. In just under seven minutes, it has the artistic breadth of a symphony.

Every hour, we lose three species

Winged celebrates the honeybee in an effort to protect this creature from disappearing. We also want to honor native bees by sharing the top three needs of native pollinators, according to Xerces:

1) A variety of plant life with overlapping bloom times. Find out which plants your local native bees enjoy, and plant them.

2) Places to nest. Unlike the social, hive-dwelling honeybee, most native bees are solitary and nest in the ground. Learn how to provide a nest.

3) Protection from pesticides. Please. Check your garage shelf. Do you use any of these? Stop. Then check out Melissa Bees’ post on how to talk to your neighbor about pesticides.

Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.
Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.

We’ve chosen to focus on honeybees in this anthology for a number of reasons. Because the honeybee has so captivated the human imagination. Because the honeybee is unique among pollinators in its relationship with humans, developed over thousands of years of honey harvesting and beekeeping. Because we rely so heavily on the hard work of apis mellifera, the European honeybee, an important insect pollinator of the crops making up the majority of our diet. Because the honeybee is in trouble.

Anthophora tricolor. Sam Droege.
Anthophora tricolor. Sam Droege.

But the fact is, native bees are equally fascinating, equally important to our food system, equally threatened. Xerces estimates that over 100 crop species in North America require pollination by an insect pollinator. And research shows that native bees are as effective as honeybees in agricultural pollination if provided with habitat. Xerces points out that given the fragility of the honeybee, it’s important to strengthen the populations of a diverse range of native bees– many of which can pollinate plants in a number of different ways.

Mellisodes dentiventris. Photo Sam Droege.

These photographs, taken by Sam Droeges, appear in the photostream for the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab. They were featured on NPR this week, and I’m in awe of the variety of colors, shapes, and features among the many species pictured.

Xylocopa mordax. Photo Sam Droege.
Xylocopa mordax. Photo Sam Droege.

Some bees specialize in different plants. Mellisodes dentiventris, for example, pollinate composites like goldenaster. Others are generalists, like the carpenter bee (above) . The carpenter bee gets its name from its habit of tunneling into wood to build its nest. Here is another “anti-specialist,” the sweat bee, a member of the largest genera of bees in the world.

Lasioglossum quebecense. Photo Sam Droege.

These photographs are so beautiful, they make me cry. How incredibly complex our world is. How shameful to turn our backs as thousands of species disappear every day. In 2007, the U.N. reported that we lose three species every hour.  That number may well be higher today, in 2013. How many species of bee must we lose before we change our ways?

On truth and industrial agriculture

A debate on NPR this morning has me thinking about the dividing lines we often draw as we attempt to solve problems. In this five-minute spot, “American Farmers Say They Feed the World,” two camps debate the benefits of large-scale industrial-style farming.

Reporter Dan Charles staged a debate between Charlie Arnot, at the Center for Food Integrity, and Margaret Mellon with the Union of Concerned Scientists– effectively positing a divide between farmers and the environment. He wanted to probe the veracity of an idea he says is held by many U.S. farmers, that it is their responsibility to feed the world. According to the big-ag vision, in order to fulfill that promise, farmers will need genetically modified seeds and new pesticides.

This was the moment in the story that especially captured my attention, because it reflects what’s at stake with honeybees. Charles continues:

“This is why the words ‘feed the world’ grate on the nerves of people who believe that large-scale, technology-driven agriculture is bad for the environment and often bad for people.”

It’s the “and” in that phrase that startled me, ringing out like a double negative in one of the ESL classes I sometimes teach. It seemed as simple as a grammatical error. Why repeat the obvious? What’s bad for the environment is always bad for people. We have nowhere else to go. Planet earth is the only environment there is to speak of.

Similarly, what’s good for honeybees is good for us. What’s bad for honeybees is bad for us. All of this is intricately connected, beautifully complicated. There are entire webs of connection uniting pollinators, farming, food, and hunger.

So Charles called in a referee, economist Christopher Barrett, who offered a paraphrase of the statement physicist Niels Bohr made famous: “Sometimes the opposite of a truth isn’t a falsehood, but another truth.”

The industrial farmer who depends on pesticides is trying his best to feed his own family, and may believe it’s the only way to make a difference in the global food system. The commercial beekeeper may depend on a trade he knows to be unsustainable. In turn, the domestic food system depends on the work of his bees.

This is the paradox that exposes those webs of connection. Depleted soil and weakened honeybees are a reflection of the mess we’ve made. We’re all tangled up in the consequences of past choices, and we’re all doing our best to get out. We just see things differently.

Unbelievable Bees

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This morning, I’m heading out to Portland’s World Forestry Center for UnBEElievable Bees, a daylong event celebrating the incredible work of our favorite winged pollinator: the honeybee. I get to learn more about keeping bees healthy, queen breeding and common misperceptions of bees.

I’m doubly excited because the Winged website goes live today. That means I get to connect with other writers and activists who are passionate about protecting pollinators. I’ll be passing out flyers and spreading the word about the Winged call for submissions.

This project has been a long time in the making, and I’m looking forward to opening it up for collaboration.