Recently I made a very cool discovery — that snowflakes can form around a variety of different particles — rain, dust and even grains of pollen. This idea that high up in our atmosphere, the renmants of summer’s glorious flowers are swirling around in the dark, cold skies is just astounding. And, even more, that these tiny beautiful particles which are intrinsic products of plant life and critical resources for bees, can create the exquisite beauty of snowflakes, is inconceivable. The connection–pollen—bees—-pollen—-snowflakes is the inspiration for this little animation, “The Bees Do Dream.”
It seems early, spring is not officially here yet, but there are bulbs pushing up their bright heads through the soil and early shrubs and trees are bursting with delicate blossoms. Time to plan ahead for Pollinator Week 2018 (June 18-24).
I have the very great pleasure of having an exhibition in June and Pollinator Week falls within the duration of the show, so I’m creating a series of postcards that will be offered gratis to visitors to the gallery.
The postcards are little reminders/suggestions on creating a pollinator and bee-neighborly environment.
I have been collecting botanical specimens for some time now. The idea of ‘collection’ as a form of knowledge is of interest to me. What happens when one attempts to recreate nature by bringing as many objects as possible into one space? How can renmants and fragmentary things represent the whole or the real?
Sorting through piles and piles of old work, more precisely the cast off sheets of imagery on gampi from the large bee-themed work from 2015, I started to play with the materials; exploring, in a sketchbook, the idea of collections, of possessing nature. Specimens, both botanical and entomological, are instrinsic parts of my new work, and I am reflecting upon my own need to see nature as a collectible entity.
As the season of bee observation, floral collection and study draws to a close, I am starting to look through my image archive, considering the printed ones, what to keep, what to set aside–what thematics to consider in preparation for next year’s exhibitions? Soon, I will be starting the intensive task of printing new images, most probably with the help of a new Epson printer, as I have devastated my present one with the abundantly free-floating fibers in the gampi paper I use.
But despite the hate-hate relationship of gampi+printer, the paper is lovely to work with, and because it is not coated, there is not the same sharpness in the image that real photography paper has. It has a natural warm hue. These aspects I really like.
Then the long, slow task of dipping each image in melted beeswax. The paper is already translucent, but the beeswax renders it more so, and adds a further warmth to the tone.
Recently I attended a native bee identification workshop at Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island given by the wonderful entomologist and bee specialist, Lincoln Best. (Instagram: @beesofcanada). Just close by our classroom, there were gardens, hedges and some wild areas. In the wild part, there was a small bush of Lesser Burdock–a new plant to me–which my bee-buddy, Lori (Madame Beespeaker) said was Burdock. Sadly, Burdock is an invasive plant, but that negative aspect notwithstanding, Burdock is very generous in the pollen and nectar it offers its visitors, and that plant was buzzing with activity.
Every day of our workshop was a fantastic learning experience, but if I had to choose one experience only, I think it would be the delight, awe, sadness and beauty in the intense observation and exploration of a tiny black bee, a Dianthidium species, and the life and death that I witnessed on one of its floral resources, this very same Burdock, Arctium minus.
Note the frayed edges of this little bee’s wing. She must have been working very hard provisioning and building her nest. Bees in your Backyard states that Dianthidium collect various materials for their nests, including pebbles, soil and resin, and that it might take up to 1000 trips for a female to build, provision and conceal one nest. No wonder her wings are in tatters!
The females do not lose their attractiveness to males after mating, rather, the male continues to pursue the female because he wants to be the last male to mate with her before she lays an egg, to increase the likelihood that his genes will get passed on to the next generation.
Working on the next generation: The female just goes on with her foraging and nest building after her encounters with the male. Note in the photo above, the female has very light-coloured pollen on her head, probably the pollen from these disc florets she was foraging on before the male accosted her. Dianthidium belong to the Megachilidae family of bees, which means that the female carries her load of collected pollen on special hairs under her belly.
Lori and I did not manage to find any of the Dianthidium nests, sadly. That would have been fantastic!
And finally, the same plant that offers food and a mating-bed also brings death with it! The cycle of life.
Part of the thrilling process of learning about native pollinators and their relationship to flowers is moving beyond my immediate surroundings and exploring environments that are further afield. One of my most favorite parts of this province is the Okanagan-Similkamen region with its fragrant desert hillsides, the Ponderosa Pine forests, the orchards and of course, the wineries. But even getting there is a rich experience as roadsides are often full of wildflowers that color the dusty banks with splotches of red, blue, purple and yellow and white. Some of those colors come from native plants, like the lupins, yarrow and Indian Paint brush, but sadly, some also come from invasive species like some thistles and knapweeds, Dalmation toadflax, sulphur cinquefoil and oxeye daisies.
Sometimes a blossom that I am studying has so many astounding structures that taking it apart and understanding its beautiful components becomes a total obsession for days. And so it is with this little native wildflower, Menzies larkspur, Delphinium menziesii, from the family Ranunculaceae. It produces nectar in its amazing little nectar spurs, and sheds pale creamy pollen from its numerous anthers.
This past week I have been looking back, returning to and re-encountering work that last year I had packed and stored, tucked away from visibility and memory. This image below is part of a much larger project on bees called “not by chance alone,” which was exhibited at the RAG in the fall of 2015. After the show came down, I started to rework parts of the project, turning the work’s initial impetus and focus away from honeybees, and solely towards native bees and pollinators. Although native bees were already a large part of the original project, I wanted to reconfigure the content with native pollinators as the dominant thematic.
I extracted this section from the motifs of the big project–it represents an interpretation and conflagration of several mythical figures: she is Flora, Persephone, Cloris,and Melissa. Metaphorically, she is spring, abundance, fecundity and renewal. I based her face upon Botticelli’s Primavera.
She is composed entirely of tiny bee imprints created on 45 sheets of translucent gampi paper. Each individual sheet is 18×24,” making the completed work, 12’x13′. The warm tone of the paper is enhanced by dipping the sheets into melted, unrefined beeswax.
The text which surrounds her, celebrates the arrival of springtime. It is taken from a beautiful Italian madrigal, for 5 voices, called “Ride la Primavera,” . The first line is usually translated as “Spring is smiling,” although ridere in contemporary Italian means to laugh. But hey, the language gurus know their Renaissance stuff! The music was written by Heinrich Schütz in 1611; lyrics by Giambattista Marino.
A rough translation of the madrigal here:
“Spring is smiling, for beautiful Clori is returning, Listen to the little swallow, look at the grasses and the flowers, But you Clori, more lovely in this new season, Keep old winter, for your heart is girded by eternal ice. Will you, cruel Nymph, for kindness, hold the sun in your eyes, And April in your face?”
A little more than a week is left of this year–the end of one–the beginning of another. Perhaps now, in the midst of cold winter when the queen bees are sleeping, it is the time to sit and reflect upon these months of silence and stillness.
The ancient Greeks have a touching myth to explain the changing seasons, the tale of Demeter, the earth-mother goddess and her daughter Persephone. Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, and doomed to spend her entire life underground, in darkness with her captor. Demeter raged against her loss, and in her grief plunged the entire earth into cold winter. Demeter demanded that Hades return her daughter to the world of sunlight, but alas, Hades had enticed Persephone into eating the seed of a pomegranate and for this act, she was destined to live a third of the year in the frigid darkness of Hades’ realm, and the earth doomed to remain cold and empty of flowers. (To read further, see the Homeric Hymn to Demeter: earlywomenmasters.net).
I’ll start with a flower that Demeter missed, apparently, and left on the earth despite the cold, the dark and the snow. This is the Winter Rose, or Christmas Rose, appropriately called thus for the season, although it does not belong to the rose family at all, but the Ranunculaceae.
The Hellebore has super cool petals that are tubular shaped, and which are actually nectar-holding structures, ie nectaries. The large colored structures that we think are petals, are not petals at all, but sepals.
None of the native bees are awake and out when most of the Hellebores bloom, but I’ve seen honeybees on them on warm sunny days in early spring. The amazing, complex structure of the blossom with its strange petal-nectaries, the multiply-pronged stigmas and abundant stamens absolutely enchant me!