Bee Sculpture

June 13, 2007

A friend of Leo’s has a sweet project going: he’s submerged a bicycle in ocean water at the end of a pier. His plan is to leave it there until barnacles build up, haul it out, scrape it and replace key parts to end up with a barnacle bike. I’m pretty sure he’s going to shred his thighs, but as someone who regularly plays with bees, I shouldn’t look askance at those who court disaster.

The project reminded me of an attempt I made at wax-based bee sculpture a few years back. I tried putting various objects in the hives to see if they’d build wax around them, entombing the key and vase and such that gave them. It was a failure, however. They built spaces around the objects, but not on the objects themselves. 

My theory is that they avoided the objects because they didn’t like the materials: metal, ceramic, etc. They’d prefer to build off of wood, wax.

I decided to test the theory and take a fresh swing at the project this week. Sunday, I stopped off at Archie McPhee’s, home of the bacon toothpick, and picked up a variety of oddments that seemed like they’d be interested entombed in beeswax: a fake nutria skull, bride and groom, glow in the dark skull, small vials and ampoules, miniature doctor and handyman and a googly eyeball.

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Tonight, in between games of chess with Marcus, I melted down some beeswax (some of it culled from the hives, some of it from pressed sheets I had on hand to repair old frames). Beeswax needs to be melted carefully: it doesn’t boil, but it will burn if heated too high, and then it’s a hotter than a chip fire. The best strategy is to use a double boiler and melt it slow: it has a low melting point (146 Fahrenheit), so it doesn’t take much. It’s also key to avoid contact with water (otherwise you risk saponification, and no, I didn’t know what that meant until I looked it up, either) and to melt in glass, tin or steel (copper and aluminum will discolor it).

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After I had it melted, I dipped each of the objects in the molten wax. My theory is that by coating it in wax, the bees will take to it and build off it in a way they wouldn’t if it had been the naked the materials.I

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I’ll crack the hives tomorrow after work and let the little Goldsworthy’s do their best. I’ll keep you posted.

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