Nothing Says Christmas Like Bees

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To make a bee beard, one starts with tying the queen to the neck.

For the longest time, I’ve been working on a “prequel” to my painting of a bee beard.  I got serious as my 49th birthday approached.  I found that I was industrious about the task — not getting stuck in old ways of over-thinking the concept, or of perfectionism about the line or form, or becoming bored by the tasks I had laid out for myself day by day.  I just got to work and when I was tired, I laid down the brush.  I was…well, like a bee. The result is here.

When I did let myself ruminate on bees and bee beards, I couldn’t remember why I wanted to paint them at all. I’m sure it originally related to the concept of apples and honey that I had painted as I worked through the Eve and the Garden series so long ago.  Just wanting to keep that alive.  The bee beard painted itself almost,  and remained an oddity — a question mark.  It needed a prequel. Here’s the painting of the bee beard:

bee beard

I looked up the meaning of the symbol of bees in the illustrated encyclopedia of traditional symbols and began to get a murky sign from the universe about why I had chosen the subject, and to my sensibilities they seem holiday oriented. The bee is a sign of immortality, rebirth, industry, order, purity and a soul.  In Christianity, the bee is a symbol Mary, mother of Jesus; in Hinduism, the bee on a lotus is the symbol of Vishnu.

The symbol of the ancient Greek goddess Demeter is the bee.  She is sometimes called the “pure Mother Bee,” and the Greeks worshipped her as the bringer of the harvest.  In ancient times to whisper something to a bee would bring the message to the spirit world.

The way these paintings came to me felt as though they were a whisper to me from a place of collective and universal consciousness.  I found joy in the process of painting them and then in thinking about what I had painted, rather than what I would paint.

Bees, I’m sure, don’t think about the honey either.  Hope I can carry this into the new year.

And now, a beautiful poem about bee beards given to me after she saw the strange bee beard painting by my dear friend and amazing poet and artist Marie Pavlicek-Werhli:

The Girl with Bees in Her Hair

BY ELEANOR WILNER

came in an envelope with no return address;
she was small, wore wrinkled dress of figured
cotton, full from neck to ankles, with a button
of bone at the throat, a collar of torn lace.
She was standing before a monumental house—
on the scale you see in certain English films:
urns, curved drives, stone lions, and an entrance far
too vast for any home. She was not of that place,
for she had a foreign look, and tangled black hair,
and an ikon, heavy and strange, dangling from
an oversize chain around her neck, that looked
as if some tall adult had taken it from his,
and hung it there as a charm to keep her safe
from a world of infinite harm that soon
would take him far from her, and leave her
standing, as she stood now—barefoot, gazing
without expression into distance, away
from the grandeur of that house, its gravel
walks and sculpted gardens. She carried a basket
full of flames, but whether fire or flowers
with crimson petals shading toward a central gold,
was hard to say—though certainly, it burned,
and the light within it had nowhere else
to go, and so fed on itself, intensified its red
and burning glow, the only color in the scene.
The rest was done in grays, light and shadow
as they played along her dress, across her face,
and through her midnight hair, lively with bees.
At first they seemed just errant bits of shade,
until the humming grew too loud to be denied
as the bees flew in and out, as if choreographed
in a country dance between the fields of sun
and the black tangle of her hair.
                                                   Without warning
a window on one of the upper floors flew open—
wind had caught the casement, a silken length
of curtain filled like a billowing sail—the bees
began to stream out from her hair, straight
to the single opening in the high facade. Inside,
a moment later—the sound of screams.
The girl—who had through all of this seemed
unconcerned and blank—all at once looked up.
She shook her head, her mane of hair freed
of its burden of bees, and walked away,
out of the picture frame, far beyond
the confines of the envelope that brought her
image here—here, where the days grow longer
now, the air begins to warm, dread grows to
fear among us, and the bees swarm.

Eleanor Rand Wilner, “The Girl with Bees in Her Hair” from The Girl with Bees in Her Hair. Copyright © 2004 by Eleanor Rand Wilner. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

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