You might think Somerset fibre artist Lydia Needle's idea for FIFTY BEES started with, well... a bee! ;) It's a good guess, but surprisingly it all began with a butterfly. The large blue butterfly that became extinct in 1979 to be exact - and the fact that changes in the ecosystem, affecting rabbits and red ants, also meant a sad goodbye to blue (until it was amazingly reintroduced in 1984). You see? Everything's connected!
Anyway, this got Lydia's mind whirring... what about our bees and their own delicate ecosystems that are under threat? This thought, the spark of an idea and the resulting FIFTY BEES art project born last year, saw Lydia taking on the challenge of needle felting fifty of the 270 species of British bee.
She then invited fifty artists to create a response to the bee she'd paired them with - and the exhibition that followed was a flipping beautiful thing!
It got people thinking, chatting and helping to safeguard our bees - and you can read about it right here, if you missed it.
Fast forward to 2018 and guess what? Another fifty, almost life-sized, bees have been intricately handcrafted by Lydia...
... and another fifty artists have reacted, drawing more attention to the hidden worlds of bees. And wow! What a reaction it is.
You know when you visit an exhibition and there's a feast of things to check out and you get an excited rush and don't really know where to explore first? That's the feeling FIFTY BEES 'The Return' (our totally unofficial name for the sequel ;)) gave us. Should we explore things in some kind of order, or dive in and head straight for the pieces we're drawn to, like a kid in a retro sweet shop that just can't help running to the strawberry bonbons? ;)
Well, in the end we did both, because in an exhibition that's brimming with a host of beautiful, colourful and challenging works, there's so much to see, appreciate and consider. Work like Alison Hancock's 'There you are' - an abstract representation of grass and bee, in response to the Turquoise Furrow Bee she was given by Lydia.
And then there's Rebecca Bruton's beautiful artwork 'Sea Radish', responding to the Violet-winged Mining Bee. Becky even used bee pollen to create the yellow dye that adds colour to the cotton fabrics!
And where else could you see this cool creation, Nature Therapy 1?
Elinor Taylor researched the food sources of her Groove-faced Mining Bee, chose the hawthorn and then discovered a piece of wood in her wood store that made the perfect viewfinder - so we're also treated to a glimpse of the bees natural habitat, if we peek inside!
One of the things we love about the exhibition is that there's so much diversity in the body of eclectic work on show at the For Every Cloud gallery in Langport. Whatever inspires you, whether it's ceramics, painting, crafting, needle felting, mixed media sculpture, poetry... you're sure to find it here. It'll reach out to you in different ways, like this beautiful detail in Donna Vale's piece 'the weight of the world' did to us, as it describes the determination and energy of the Yellow Loosestrife Bee to "burrow and line their nest for the next generation".
Rowena Payne's watercolour, showing the imagined private world of the Yellow Shouldered Bee, made us stop in our tracks too! We got lost for a while in the vibrant colour and abstract shapes symbolising "a bee pathway to nectar-filled flowers".
I'm also a bit magpie-like when it comes to shiny things, so I immediately made a beeline (I know! I know!) for jewellery designer and maker, Gemma Atwell's piece. I've got a beautiful necklace by Gemma already and at first, I didn't actually realise this stunning sterling silver locket was made by her. It just goes to show, my magpie instincts are pretty fine-tuned! ;)
Gemma's locket was made in honour of the solitary Male Common Mourning Bee, who's a bit of a tricky customer and pretty difficult to spot!
As Gemma says:
"The first recorded sighting was made in the 18th century, a time when botany and herbal remedy was more widely practiced. This bee tends to visit wild flowers and herbs, so one can see how they would occasionally be spotted by those foraging wild growing flora"
Inside the locket is a clue as to where you can find this particular bee...
One of our favourite pieces is by Julia McKenzie who was given the Shingle Yellow-face Bee to respond to. 'The shingle beach' is an altered Pocket Observer Road Atlas that shows the Kent and Sussex coasts bursting into life... and it's so beautiful up close in the gallery.
The idea behind it is that the Shingle Yellow-face Bee would be at home here, amongst the elbow-horned poppies, sea peas and sea holly. As Julia says:
"My little atlas comes to life and dipicts the plants and insects you would find there. This bee would be happy there on the margins of the beach, looking for nectar amongst the salt-sprayed flowers and the brambles that bridge land and sea"
Some pieces in the exhibition caught our eye for colour, like Julia's and Renee's, and some we fell in love with for the story and emotion behind them... like Suzie Simmon's piece 'I went looking'. For us, it really brings home the fragility of the bees environment and sums up perfectly what this awesome exhibition is all about.
Whilst researching her bee (the Shiny-margined Mini-mining Bee) and armed with paper and pens, Suzie went looking for the places it might nest, but she found the Spring ground rain-soaked...
"Ploughs and diggers had raked the soil of potential nesting sites and food-rich wildflower meadows had almost disappeared. I found some quiet green corners where speedwells and buttercups grew and where small shiny bees would soon emerge from the loose soil. Once my pages were full of notes and drawings, I tore them into pieces, pinning this fragmented environment to unframed board - vulnerable memories of my search"
For us, it's such a powerful way to highlight the precarious nature of this bee's natural habitat.
And we were also drawn to this beautiful oil painting by Jenny Graham - 'One Spring Morning'. We must've instinctively known that Jenny's bee, the Early Nomad Bee, is quite commonly found in Somerset! ;)
Once again, Lydia has brought together an incredible group of talented artists from all across the country, to raise awareness of the plight of our British bees and as she says:
FIFTY BEES 2 is a whole new experience. The first one was like walking into the unknown. I’m very new to the art world and it was my first exhibition and first time curating. The second one is like something else entirely - a whole new creature! Until all the companion artworks are unwrapped and seen together in the exhibition space, you have absolutely no idea how everything will work and for the second FIFTY BEES, we're working in a much smaller space... but it’s magical. It’s magical how the individual works come together, to conjure up such a wonderful experience for the visitor
And that's so true. We've discovered species we wouldn't have known existed and FIFTY BEES encourages everyone to play their part in preserving the natural world - creating a visual story that touches your heart.
Lydia's handcrafted bees of differening shapes, sizes, purposes and behaviours are breathtaking and as she says...
I love it that every person who comes to the gallery takes away something - a new favourite artist, new knowledge, new inspiration, something to pass on to their friends or an idea of what to plant in their gardens to encourage the bees and other pollinators in. It’s like a big game of tag, but winning the game is all about how much we can share and improve prospects for our little friends (and the artists too!)
Plans are already taking shape for FIFTY BEES 3 which will be at The Brewhouse Theatre and Art Centre in Taunton. It’s going to be a much longer show this time and Lydia shares a new development with us too...
"We’re hoping there’ll be a wider remit, involving wildlife charities to include talks, workshops and wider audience participation. And because we’re going into a bigger space, who knows what the new fifty artists will come up with".
That sounds exciting and whatever happens in the future, if you love bees, nature and beautiful storytelling, take a trip to see this year's FIFTY BEES. It's on until September 1st and the exhibition opening times for the For Every Cloud gallery in Langport are:
Lydia also has an open call out to artists who would like to be part of FIFTY BEES 3! If you are inspired and interested in discovering more check out the FIFTY BEES social channels or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. You know we often share secrets on the blog, right? Well unless we buy David Smith's 'expressions on the journey of Hylaeus brevicornis' there'll always be a FIFTY BEES 2 secret we'll never know! That's because David will only explain the full reasoning behind his piece to whoever buys it :).