A Shed to Bee-hold at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
June 8, 2011
Graduate student Sarah Dalrymple next to the bee mural. (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
DAVIS--It’s a shed to bee-hold.
A colorful native-bee mural on a tiny tool shed in the honey bee garden at the University of California, Davis may indeed be the most bee-utiful shed in the country.
It’s informative, educational and artistic, visitors and bee specialists alike agree.
“It’s spectacular,” said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. "It is gratifying to see our native bees get recognition along side their most famous cousin, the European honey bee."
Squash bee? Check. Leafcutter bee? Check. Sweat bee? Check. Wool carder bees? Check.
They’re among the 22 bees portrayed by 22 UC Davis students enrolled in the recent Entomology 1, “Art, Science and the World of Insects.”
The art is a new addition to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. The haven does quadruple duty: it’s a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; and it’s an educational, artistic and research garden that focuses on the plight and needs of honey bees.
The students are neither entomology nor art majors. In fact, their fields of study span 12 different majors, including engineering and computer science. Many had never heard of a digger bee, longhorned bee or a sweat bee, let alone how to depict it on the mural.
Small carpenter bee by Caitlyn Jones.
But soon they did. Graduate student/teaching assistant Sarah Dalrymple guided them on an art and science expedition that led to the design, creation and installation of the mural.
“Each student chose a different native bee species to research and then came up with a design to illustrate an interesting aspect of the bee’s behavior,” said Dalrymple, who served as the graphics project coordinator. She is studying for her doctorate with major professor Rick Karban of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
“They painted their own composition onto a hexagonal piece of concrete board and at the end of the quarter these hexagons were assembled into a honeycomb mosaic on the side of the shed,” she said.
Most of the bees depicted, including mason, sweat, squash, leafcutter, blue orchard, carpenter and bumble bees are natives. Also portrayed: the non-native honey bee (Apis mellifera), brought to America in 1622 by European colonists.
“When most people hear the word, ‘bee,’ honey bee immediately comes to mind,” said UC Davis Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. “Honey bees do provide 80 to 90 percent of the crop pollination that results in about one-third of our daily diet. However, other bees contribute to crop pollination and are responsible for the maintenance of flowers, shrubs and trees in our forests, meadows and deserts.”
Thorp, who annotated the mural, said that it is "more than just a collection of individual panels."
"Sarah and the students obviously collaborated in piecing together individual works to form a landscape horizon and a tree trunk that connects many of the panels brings the mural together as a collective piece," he said. "The students did their research and were able to present aspects of the biology of their subjects above and beyond providing pretty pictures of some of the diverse array of bee species."
"One panel in particular caught my attention when I saw the mural in its entirety," Thorp said. "That was a clever rendition comparing the way we see flower colors and the way in which bees view them with their vision that reaches further into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum than we can view with our unaided eyes. That helps point out that bees and humans perceive the world in different ways."
Dalrymple, named the recipient of a 2011 UC Davis Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award for her work, “crossed the boundaries between biology, art and culture and provided “a high level of expertise and innovation in each area,” said course co-instructor Diane Ullman, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and professor of entomology.
“This kind of integration takes courage and the will to reach across disciplinary borders to engage students in a new way of thinking,” said Ullman. “Sarah brought her knowledge of ecology and population together with her background in art and taught the graphics studio section of this course. Of the three sections--ceramics, textile surface design and graphics--graphics is perhaps the most difficult to teach because it is the least forgiving of different skill levels, talents and experience.”
Course co-instructor Donna Billick, a noted artist based in Davis, described the class as extremely successful, and “a letterhead class for Sarah.” Both Ullman and Billick are the co-founders and co-directors of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
As for Dalrymple, she said she’s always loved art and science and blending them came naturally. “I took a lot of art classes as a kid and in high school and especially enjoyed working with oil and acrylic paints,” Dalrymple said. “In college I majored in biology (ecology and evolutionary biology) and minored in Spanish at the University of Tennessee and lost my focus on art.”
Dalrymple, a member of the Department of Evolution and Ecology’s Population Biology Graduate Group, regained her focus on art after Ullman offered her a teaching assistant position in graphics. “I was extremely excited for the opportunity to combine my enthusiasm about science with my long-held interest in art and to expand my teaching practice into the arts,” said Dalrymple, now a third-year teaching assistant.
“Each time I teach this class my goal is one, to empower students to take ownership of their work and, two, collaborate to unify their artwork under a larger theme,” Dalrymple said. “The students responded with diligent work outside of class and a willingness to work together to make big picture decisions about project details and critique one another’s work. Collaborating in this way, students were able to build off of one another’s ideas to create something I never could have pictured. “
“I came into the class with a general idea of how the mosaic would be laid out, but the students filled in all of the details,” Dalrymple said. “Many of these students came into the class with very little art experience, but still produced impressive artwork.”
The best part of class? “That students actively contribute to the knowledge and ideas behind the design, so it becomes a more meaningful and empowering learning experience for them,” Dalrymple said.
“About two-thirds of the way through the quarter I observed a noticeable shift from students relying solely on me for critiques of their ideas and paintings to them relying on one another. I think it is rare for undergraduates to realize that other students have valid input and ideas, so I am proud to have been a part of that learning experience.”
The students commented on their work at a recent end-of-class gathering in the haven. “I haven’t done art since kindergarten,” said student Madel Soriano, who portrayed a squash bee (Peponapis sp.) She said she learned that the male squash bee sleeps inside the flower, awaiting the females. Soriano thanked cucurbits specialist Jim Cane of the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology (who also annotated the mural).
Soriano’s advice to future students: “Don’t be hesitant to ask the researchers. They’re happy to help.”
Jessa Fautino, who crafted a longhorned bee (Mellisodes sp.) said she had not created any art since grade schools. What particularly challenged her: “how to make the bees look hairy, how to make the wings look realistic, and how to blend the colors.” She learned that the longhorned bee does much of its pollination in August, is involved in communal roosting.
Christine Chen, who did a wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), said the female bee cards the fuzz from the leaves of lamb’s ear and other plants for her nest. The male is territorial and chases away other insects.
Anthony Ngo, who portrayed an iridescent sweat bee (Agapostemon sp.) said he had no painting experience before the class. “Sarah helped me a lot.”
Many of the students said the wall mural is a legacy; that it will be there after they graduate from UC Davis.
“It will be here forever,” said Andrew Yip, who drew a leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.)
Now a science/art team, including Ullman, Billick, Dalrymple, are meeting with Thorp to discuss creating functional art: building and decorating nesting structures for native bees in the garden.
“Then we’ll be back to the drawing boards to come up with an innovative idea for a project that encourages scientific discovery and creative input from students,” Dalrymple said.
“We want to continue to do this kind of work,” said Billick, who created the six-foot-long bee sculpture, “Miss Bee Haven,” in the garden. Two columns of painted bee-motif bee boxes, the work of the UC Davis Art Science Fusion Program, grace the entrance to the garden. One column represents honey bee activity inside the hive and the other, outside the hive.
And now the native bees have their place in the garden, too.
Christine Chen's wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) drew rave reviews.
(Editor's Note: The haven is open year around from dawn to dusk. There is no admission fee.)
The Bee Mural Legend (Identifying the bees and artists, with bee annotations by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology)
A Photo Essay of the Students Who Created the Art
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology