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Arcadia University Senior Thesis

Completed in May 2023 to complete my Bachelor's Degree in Studio Art. Displayed for one week at Arcadia's Senior Thesis Exhibition in 2023.

Image from the Beekeeper's Bible

The Beekeeper's Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses.

Thomas became popular in the 1760s for his demonstrations of “mastery over bees” in which he encouraged the bees to cluster on his arms, chest, head, and chin in an extraordinary bee beard⁷. His circus act also involved getting the bees to follow him around the ring, while he rode ahead on horseback; for his finale the swarm would land on his shoulder⁷. In order to do all this, Wildman had to mimic the conditions of a natural swarm: he fed the bees sugar syrup, after which he cupped the queen in his hands. The bees, calmed by the syrup just as if they had eaten their own honey in preparation for swarming- then followed the queen’s pheromone scent. Wherever Wildman and the queen went, the bees followed⁷.
The real reason for this act? The crowds loved it, which helped to make beekeeping fashionable among the leisure classes. Sales of fancy new hives- including expensive mahogany models with glass partitions that Wildman sold in his bee supplies shop in Holborn, London, were boosted⁷.
The Bee Beard Game functions to mimic the way one makes a beard of bees: grab the queen (the slightly larger, lighter yellow plush toy) from a hive and clip her (or throw her) to a man’s beard. Once she is set, the rest of the bees will come join her. Since they are not defending a hive at that point, they are nonaggressive⁶. Unlike the game, though, removing the real beard of bees can be difficult, as the queen must be located, unclipped without losing her, and returned to the hive, where her family will soon join her and see that she gets back to work⁶.

Image of the Bee Box by Emma Broomhead

Emma Broomhead. "Bee Box". 2019.

Like Honey to Bees
Humanity's Oldest Friend

The Bee Beard
What trick is more impressive than hundreds of bees swarming on your face? More than just impressive, this trick has a unique historical backstory to it.
As knowledge about beekeeping spread, so did the search for more sophisticated and productive beehive forms. While traditional skeps were still widely used, there was experimentation with the goal of creating a hive that prevented the keeper from having to kill the bees in order to harvest the honey⁷.
One Englishman, Thomas Wildman (1734-81), wrote in his book A Treatise on the Management of Bees (1768) criticizing the prevailing custom for destroying bees⁷. In the book, Wildman introduced a new system for keeping bees using flat-topped, tub-shaped straw skeps with five wooden boards nailed across the top of each. He started with a strong swarm in a single skep, and when the bees had filled it with honeycomb, he placed a second one beneath it, and so on, until the queen was lying in the bottom of four skeps and the upper ones were filled with honey⁷. At this point, he suggested that the top skep be removed and banged on its side to release any remaining bees, after which the full honeycomb could be pulled out and the empty skep placed back under the others⁷. Wildman was tapping into what bees do naturally - building combs steadily downwards, as they would in the wild, and storing honey in the upper parts of the hive⁷.
Thomas Wildman and his nephew Daniel were better known outside of beekeeping circles for their showmanship, though Daniel also authored a book called A Complete Guide for the Management of Bees Throughout the Year (1780).

Curran Hatleberg's photograph of a man with a bee beard

Curran Hatleberg. "Man With Bees". 2017.

Modern Bees and Us
One example of modern bee related art is A. A. Milne’s first book about Winnie-the-Pooh, published in 1926⁷. The best-known honey-lover in fiction goes to enormous heights to obtain honey, getting chased by angry bees as he dangles from the toy balloon which he used to reach the nest, perhaps best remembered by children today as it was depicted by illustrator E. H. Shepard⁷.

Included in the Bee Beard Game display, the Bee Box (2019) by Emma Broomhead is a work of modern bee-inspired art. Using reclaimed materials Emma created this box in celebration of design, functionality, and skillful technique. “This project helped me to realize that I care most about making art when I have an important reason behind doing so-- the special people in my life that are worth creating for.” Emma Broomhead is a local entrepreneur and craftsperson. She has a BBA in Organization Management from the Fox School of Business at Temple University.
Clearly bees aren’t going out of fashion in the art world, but they are under threat in the real one. The United States still uses neonicotinoids as pesticides, and 44 percent of all hives in the US died in the winter of 2015-16⁷. The next spring, pro-bee activists delivered 2.6 million dead bees to the U.S. Congress, but there was still no legislative response⁶. It should also be noted that a native bumblebee to North America, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee, is now an endangered species ¹⁶. I chose to raise awareness of this species by doing an illustration for an endangered species stamp assignment, which I have also used to make the cover of this zine as well as on my business card and the temporary tattoos and stickers in the opening night pop-up shop.
No matter the reason behind making the art, from the cave drawings showing how to hunt honey to a gift for a loved one, people have been making art about bees since the beginning. Now, it is our job to continue the tradition of the symbiotic relationship between humans and bees, for we will not survive on this planet without their hard work and exceptional example of community.

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