Bees in the Living Room

May 30, 2011

For the past several years, I’ve been experimenting with creating sculpture in collaboration with my bees. My first piece, featuring a husband and wife entombed in comb, was my favorite. It was clever (I thought), whimsical and pleasing to the eye.

My other attempts (a rolling eyeball similarly entombed; LED christmas lights wending their way through wax, etc.) were interesting, I thought, but lacking in artistry. Yes, there are some objects entombed in comb in a way no human could create on their own…but so what? Beyond the “wow, how did you do that” effect, there was little to recommend them. Proof of concept, yes. Art, no.

For this year’s sculpture, I wanted something a bit more elaborate and thought provoking (but at the same time, no clobber-you-over-the-head symbolism). See the photo below for my start.

That’s a cheese plate on the bottom. The dollhouse pieces I picked up years ago at a now defunct dollhouse specialty store up on Phinney Ridge, figuring I’d do something with them some day. The cheese plate comes with an attractive glass dome that I was hoping the bees would draw comb down off of, so I drilled a hole in the bottom for them to come and go. I’ve got a little fake rug I’m going to try to cover the hole with at the end of the project.

The trick here, though, is going to be to get the bees to build inside my little dome. No reason they should or shouldn’t, it’s sort of up to them, but obviously I’d like to improve my chances.

My first attempt was to melt a bit of existing comb onto the top of the dome and then drip some honey inside. I removed seven frames from a honey super and placed the whole set-up inside an active and growing hive.


The result: the bees came in, cleaned out the honey and left the dome alone.

Then I remembered that bees will huddle on brood (eggs) to keep them warm, acting as nurse maids. It’s a strong instinct: if you add brood anywhere in your hive, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll converge on it quickly.

Burr brood combAs luck would have it, as I was inspecting my hives this week, I realized that I had put in a half-sized “honey super” frame in a full-size “brood chamber” box. As a result, there was an empty space that the bees had filled with comb…and brood. Perfect! Brood comb unattached to anything just waiting to be plucked (right).

I had some difficulty getting the comb into the sculpture, though. At first, I tried melting the wax onto the glass dome the same way I had the early comb. Unfortunately, the larvae that were in the cells on the exposed edge of the comb proved wet and slick, and it refused to stick. In the end, I just lumped some in on the floor of the “room” and hoped they would build up. Some of the comb was distorted in the process, but hopefully it didn’t kill the growing larvae.

This was yesterday. As of today, as you can see, the bees were still teeming inside the sculpture, and had even sealed the comb to the glass (as well as knocked the vodka off the table and misplaced the bra I had left on the chair). No new comb had been built, but that’s not surprising after just a day. I’ll check back in a week.

Bee Art in the Making photo.JPG

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