Lydia and the fifty bees...

Updated: Aug 18, 2018


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...that's a great name for a band if you ask us, but no! This is all about the Bees. Fifty beautiful, almost life-sized ones, meticulously hand-crafted by awesome Somerset fibre artist, Lydia Needle.

It took Lydia nearly a year to create this intricate collection that's tucked inside various vintage pots and packages… and now, they're all part of her unique exhibition 'FIFTY BEES - The Interconnectedness of All Things', which is currently creating a buzz at ACEarts in Somerton (and yes, we did use the ‘buzz’ word deliberately, because sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a bee pun or several… especially when it’s true :)).


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Anyway, not only did Lydia dedicate her time to making these brilliant bees, she also invited fifty other artists, makers, writers, poets and musicians from all over Britain to make a companion piece for each one. Lydia gave every artist a bee to respond to, and the result of their diverse creations has made the many visitors to ‘FIFTY BEES’ smile, think and experience a beetastic journey full of joy, magic and sheer variety.

Where else could you find a felted bee(f) burger (by Charlotte Humpston) giving food for thought on the plight of the Red-tailed Bumblebee, displayed in the same space as Grace Furzey's beautiful photograph of Sennen, the playground of the Moss Carder Bee...


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… or where could you see a striking air-dried clay sculpture (by Donna Vale), a stunning sketch of a majestic oak tree (by Paul Newman) and a whole host of gorgeous bee friendly plants from a local open garden (Midney Gardens)?


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Is there any other place you’d be able to listen to spoken-word poetry and sounds (from Forgotten Bee and Lemonade Kid ) on cassette, or hear music (by Alex Merron) made from the sound of bumblebees?


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As Lydia puts it, the idea behind her very first exhibition was to make sure she shared artworks that... 

"spoke to everyone, to make sure gallery visitors not only see amazing pieces, but are also inspired and enthused to make small changes in their gardens - or to spread the word about the plight of our pollinators,"

and let’s face it, with many of the 262 bee species in Britain in decline, the bees definitely need the word spreading far and wide.


Lydia initially took inspiration from a book about bees by Stephen Falk and a Friends of the Earth publication listing 15 endangered species. With the help of three other artists known as ‘the beekeepers’ (Joy Merron, Polly Hughes and Donna Vale, who are Lydia's wing ladies on the project), they’ve certainly created conversation and raised awareness throughout Somerset and far, far beyond.


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With work like this to see, it’s no surprise.


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Take a look at this beautiful book created by Linn O’ Carroll, which helps map the habitat, flowers visited and flight season of her bee – the Cliff Furrow Bee. We popped on the white gloves provided, to flick through this delicate piece containing Linn’s notes, drawings and wax-encased keepsakes.  


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And how about this? ‘Nests” by Fiona Campbell was created in response to Lydia’s Large (Cliff) Mining Bee and inspired by the endangered bee’s textured nests. It looks amazing hanging in the gallery space.  


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We also love Cat Frampton’s “The birds and the bees”. Inspired by the rare Six-banded Nomad Bee, the piece includes a challenge to discover the message contained in braille within it... and we always rise to a challenge (as does Lydia, pictured here! :))


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Then there’s ‘ Promises and problems’ by Nina Gronw-Lewis… an original way to represent the ‘mundane’ work of the Pantaloon Bee, with 150 metres of hand knitting and the ball symbolising a seed or pollen grain. We think it rocks!


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Made from hand-spun, plant-dyed, natural local wool and an authentic brood frame complete with wax and honey splats (yes… honey splats!) Helen Hickman’s tribute to the Bilberry Bumblebee hangs in one of the gallery windows and draws you in…


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And here's Lydia's bee that keeps it company! :) 


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Cally Conway’s Great Yellow Bumblebee linocut takes inspiration from the North coast of Scotland – the only place where the bee can now be found.


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And let's not forget the Honeybee! Here’s Lydia’s representation of it, along with the companion piece created by Polly Hughes.


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As one of the most important pollinators of both crop plants and wild flowers, the Honeybee is under increasing threat from incesticides and weedkillers. Polly’s piece traces 'The Waggle Dance' the bee uses to communicate the finding of food. The silhouette footprints Polly’s embroided on to hexagonal patchwork cells are a recreation of dance step guides. How cool is that?


Well, when it comes to cool, Kelly O'Brien's piece 'Playing with fire, No. 61' has bags of it! The pattern her bee (The Perkins Mining Bee) leaves on the ground when it buries its eggs was the inspiration - and this is part of an ongoing series of burned wall sculptures, created by Kelly. You can see it here, with Lydia's bee: 


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We also love Joy Merron's stand out pieces, made in response to the incredibly rare Shrill Carder Bee ...

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Kate Osman reckons the bee she was given (the Broad-faced mining bee) loves the seaside as much as she does! The little glass cow parsley, made from discarded Dorset greenhouse glass, old clock parts and copper wire, is absolutely lovely.


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As Kate says of her piece:

“I love that my work is re-purposing so many different materials. It satisfies my inner Womble and makes my heart sing”.

Well, anyone who has an inner Womble is alright by us :) 


Anyway, this is just a tiny selection of pieces from the exhibition, so do go along if you can and discover some of your own favourites – as well as the wonderful stories behind them.

You might even discover our little contribution too! Yep. We’re proud to have something in the same space as all this awesomeness! Our piece is called ‘Voice of the beehive’ (we did love that band if you remember them) and when we moved to Somerset, we discovered a crumbling, uninhabited, wooden beehive hidden amongst some silver birch trees in our garden.


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When we heard about Lydia’s exhibition, we mentioned that we were lovingly repairing the hive and Lydia invited us to include it! So… we sanded like lunatics, painted like our lives depended on it and thought about what the beehive might say if it could talk (obviously! :))


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It’s now displayed along with some little tips we’ve learned about creating a bee friendly garden - and a few other wise words we thought we’d share.


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By spending time restoring the hive and creating the little wooden messages, we’ve hopefully given it back its voice - and for us personally, it’s so flipping lovely to see it in the exhibition in all its restored glory! :)


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Talking of glory, you really have to take your hat off to Lydia. The project is completely self-funded and self-supported, with Lydia juggling her job and a small business - alongside her creation of the bees and everything that’s involved in bringing an exhibition like this to life.


The private view was amazing, with over 250 people coming to celebrate the launch of Fifty Bees a few weeks ago…


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…but more than that, Lydia is


“ over the moon that the concept of FIFTY BEES has worked - people ‘get it’ and have embraced it. It’s really become a thing in its own right and can run and run”.  

And, a little bee has already told us that Lydia’s started planning the next exhibition - with the next fifty bees and artists, but to finish this one off in true Somerset cool style, we asked Lydia to tell us a secret about FIFTY BEES that no-one else knows!


We love a secret and we're really glad we asked because we found out that the full title of the exhibition is inspired by Douglas Adams' book 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency'. It turns out Douglas is one of Lydia’s favourite writers and the quote from the book she’s adapted is "the fundamental interconnectedness of all things”. As Lydia told us:


"Douglas Adams was a keen environmentalist and also wrote a book about endangered animals called "Last chance to see". So, I wanted to honour him in the title, believing that 'interconnectedness' really does sum up what I wanted to highlight with the exhibition - that everything is linked and if one creature dies out, there will be unknown consequences.”

Let’s hope that now, each one of us stops, thinks and takes steps to make sure we never have to find out what those consequences might be... let's love those bees, people! ;) 

FIFTY BEES is on at ACEarts in Somerton, up to and including Saturday July 22nd , 2017. For gallery opening times click here. Also, follow Lydia on Instagram and Fifty Bees on Twitter for project updates.

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