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Honoring bees with art

By PAT LEUCHTMAN For the Recorder

Two years ago in May of 2019, there were bright and cheerful crowds of children and their parents gaily moving around events at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield. Children crowded around a glass bee frame, watching the bees move over the wax cells holding honey. There were gifts to win, bee facts to learn and a celebration of Lorenzo Langstroth, known as “the father of American beekeeping,” and a past Second Congregational Church minister.

At the event, Rachael Katz unveiled a big and bright yellow honey bee she had created and promised that artists would bring an array of colorful honey bees to the 2020 Bee Fest. But we all know that 2020 brought with it COVID-19 and there was no joyful celebration of Lorenzo Langstroth, nor were there honors given to the best pollinator gardeners or more big bright yellow honey bees. The Bee Fest committee (co-chairs Sandy Thomas and Sue Weeks, beekeeper Tom Graney, Katz and Ben Goldsher, of Exploded View) has been working together over the past year to make sure it happened in 2021 — feeling very much like honey bees themselves.

This year, the 2021 Bee Fest will be held Saturday.

Among the event’s features will be the honey bees promised by Katz — six art pieces created and painted by local artists situated in the downtown area.

The idea for the project was conceptualized a few years ago. In 2018, Katz, herself a local artist, was chatting with a friend before a meeting of the downtown business development group, Progress Partnership. “We were talking about ways to market the city and we thought about big painted animals,” Katz said. “Then I had the idea to do big painted bees. That would be something everyone could get behind — most of us are know of the importance of bees and there are so many tie-ins.” When a colleague suggested Katz sculpt the bees herself, she took on the challenge eagerly. “I had been trained as a mechanical engineer, but I have been working for some years now to use those skills for more artistic purposes. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to expand in that direction,” Katz said.

As she explained, the creation of the bee started as a digital process.

“I worked with software that utilizes the concept of ‘virtual clay.’ When the design was near finished, I made a small prototype on a 3D printer. I presented the prototype to the partners and sponsors of the project. They gave the OK and I began the lengthy process of hand-sculpting the full-size sculpture. Nine months later, I had the foam and fiberglass original which was introduced at the 2019 Bee Fest. Six copies were then produced by a company in Chicago and painted by six different local artists. Those six bees will be revealed during Bee Fest 2021 and on display for the foreseeable future,” Katz said.

Artists and sponsors of the 2021 honey bee art pieces: “My Name is Life” by Mary Chicoine and the Weeks family at Second Congregational Church; “Butterfly Bee” by Robert Markey, sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank; “Steampunk Bee” by Andrew Henry Easton, sponsored by Baystate-Franklin Medical Center; “Bee Assured” by Colleen Seamon, sponsored by the Franklin County Bee Association; “Celtic Bee” by Lahri Bond, sponsored by Greening Greenfield; “Honey Glow Bee” by Sarah Adam, sponsored Greenfield Cooperative Bank. For now, the sculptures are covered. They will be unveiled on Saturday.

Besides the art, there will be a lot of other things to see and celebrate in the center of Greenfield on Saturday, such as a Bee Promenade with a free Eggtooth phone app that will guide visitors to 13 downtown sites related to Lorenzo Langstroth. A bee scavenger hunt will be organized by the Greenfield Business Association, and “The Bee Movie” will be free and sponsored by the GBA and the Greenfield Garden Theater on Main Street (there will be a single showing at 9 a.m.). This animated movie is great fun starring busy bees Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick and many other famous actors.

There will be a guided installation at The Pushkin Gallery. This contemplative experience, “Exploded View: Hope is the Honey,” will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The exhibits will feature audio and visual installations, an infinity trail and a bee-inspired photo op, according to a statement. Participants will be able to write their hopes on hexagons and add them to a collective hive. Visitors can reflect on what they have lost, and what they might have gained. A temporary community memorial will honor our losses. Masks are required. Docents will guide individuals and pods of five or fewer through the installation. Donations welcome, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. In conjunction with the festival, awards will be given to gardeners and gardens for their beautiful pollinator gardens.

For the past four years, this award has been given to those who do not use pesticides and choose pollinator plants for their landscapes to support pollinator health.

Those gardens will be revealed Saturday when Dan Conlon and Connie Clarke of the Franklin County Beekeepers Association will present the plaques custom made by Polly Cantor and framed by John Piepul in a separate ceremony.

The Bee Fest has received funding from Greenfield Crossroads District, and Massachusetts Cultural Council Festivals. The Bee Fest organizers were then able to build much-needed infrastructure, an attractive new website, greenfieldbeefest.org, with a handsome new logo designed by Tom Dudley.

The importance of bees Ahead of the event, Conlon, the beekeeper behind Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, shared a few important facts about the importance of honey bees. Conlon wants to help people understand the importance of bees. It is not only honey bees that collect and move pollen and nectar from one plant to another. Thousands of solitary and social bees also move it to their nests for food.

“Scarcity of native plants limits the populations and range of many bee species. The honeybees and bumble bees do better because they take nutrition where they find it and have found many invasive plants to replace the loss of native plant species,” Conlon said. “The shrinking availability of forage is a crisis to all pollinators and has already impacted the production of food crops. Our breadbasket states grow corn, wheat, rice and soybeans as primary crops. None of these support pollinators because they are wind-pollinated plants.” The Franklin County Bee Association started the Bee Spaces pollinator garden award to promote the importance of planting flowering plants and providing habitat that encourages pollinators. Franklin County is unique because it still has many of its pollinators and the plants they need to survive. As the region becomes more suburban or urban, Conlon said this will change unless property owners leave some land in its natural condition and add nectar and pollen plants to their yards. “Pollinators need variety in their diet, food corridors to travel to new locations and places to nest and raise their young. The contribution of pollinators is often directed to increasing yield of crops for our food,” Conlon said. “We should also recognize the bigger pollination picture that maintains the planet. Filtering air and water, sequestering carbon from the air, feeding wildlife, and giving us oxygen to breathe is all part of the cycle maintained by pollination. The simple act of letting your grass grow to three or six inches will increase the variety of beneficial insects, that in turn feeds the birds that spread the seeds to other areas, and feed other creatures. It starts with plants and improves with pollinators.”

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Her column, “Between the Rows,” was published weekly in the Recorder for about 40 years. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.

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