Shortly after the Collect 2020 fair at Somerset House, COVID-19 lock-down restrictions were put in place across the UK and plans to deliver my ‘Treasure‘ Collect Open artwork to its new owner were put on hold. Finally, four months later, the time was right for us to make the journey safely and on Sunday 26th July we installed the work at the beautiful London residence of the Irish writer and art collector Polly Devlin OBE.
Polly’s home is a wunderkammer of incredible objects that she has collected over many years, each with a story to tell and as we worked she regaled us with wonderful tales of some of her favourite pieces. After the delicate wax flowers were unpacked and arranged, we were treated to celebratory bubbles and lunch out at a local restaurant, the first we had set foot in since early March!
When it was time to leave Polly gave us a gift, a book she had written with her late husband Andy Garnett, about a Somerset wild flower meadow called Cannwood that they once owned and cared passionately about.
It was a special day that I shall never forget, spent with a warm and welcoming host. I know that we will stay in touch for many years to come.
With only a few days to go until the Crafts Council Collect 2020 International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design at Somerset House, my Collect Open beeswax wildflower installation is now complete and I’m able to share a little more information about the project and the finished artwork.
My Collect Open project has been made using traditional wax modelling techniques from honey bee wax provided by Assistant Professor Scott McArt, at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, New York.
The wax that I’ve used for sculpting was collected by Scott from around 10 different honey bee colonies in central New York, some at the Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Studies and some from hobby beekeepers near the University. One sample was also taken from a commercial beekeeper who’s bees had just been used for commercial blueberry pollination in New Jersey. The beekeeper noticed that his bees were not doing well after pollinating the blueberries, so he sent wax, pollen, and dead honey bee pupae from his colonies to the lab for analysis.
The results of the analysis, conducted at the Cornell Chemical Ecology Core Facility, show an extensive list of pesticide residues in the wax samples. There is also a marked difference between the number of pesticides found in the wax samples taken from the hives used for commercial pollination services and those from hobby beekeepers.
As my wildflower sculptures contain physical traces of these pesticide residues, I will be listing them clearly as the artist’s materials used to create my installation. (It is interesting to note that if Scott had sent me different wax samples from honey bees used for commercial almond pollination in California, my list of artist’s materials would have doubled in size.)
Beeswax has traditionally been used in the creation of scientific models for education and botanical sculpture became particularly popular during the advent of the public museum in the 19th century. Artists were able to use the life like quality and translucency of the medium to create realistic and beautiful representations of plants for gallery displays, in order to engage visitors with scientific discovery.
Here are just a few of the historic beeswax plant sculptures from the scientific collections at National Museum Wales.
My work for Collect Open 2020 continues this tradition, aiming to raise awareness of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals and the transfer of these chemicals from agricultural crops to wildflowers and pollinators, promoting discussion on the man-made issues which have contributed to the global decline of pollinating insects.
My installation of beeswax wildflower sculptures will be presented in a custom made jewellery box with the title Treasure. This can be interpreted in several different ways; as a noun meaning a collection of very valuable things, or a verb meaning to take great care of something because you love it or consider it very valuable. It also refers to a wealth which is hidden or buried, giving the viewer a hint to the value of the scientific information hidden in the beeswax samples.
Treasure poses the questions, what should we collect, protect and keep safe? What precious things will be of the greatest importance and value as we begin to understand the scale of change in this era of the Anthropocene?
For questions about the pesticide residue analysis on the honey bee wax samples or the research and extension activities at the McArt lab, you can contact Dr. Scott McArt directly by email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaArtLab.
I’ve spent the last few months working solidly on my beeswax wildflower installation for Collect Open and the piece is really taking shape, so with one month to go until the fair, I thought it was a good time to share a little more of the making process.
For the installation I’ll be arranging my sculptures in compartments and drawers within a transparent jewellery box. The first stage was to design and make a cardboard mock-up of the box to see how the sculptures might fit in each space.
When I was happy with the design, it was drawn up in a 3D sketch and then manufactured in clear acrylic.
I knew that it would be a challenge to make the sculptures over the winter months when very few plants were in flower. Therefore, I began collecting, documenting and pressing flowers in late summer and autumn to give myself as much reference material as possible for the duration of my project.
Over the winter when I couldn’t access fresh material, I was able to visit and photograph the pressed plants in the herbarium at National Museum Wales and I also used my ever growing collection of botanical books for reference.
The wildflower sculptures in my Collect Open installation are made from beeswax supplied by Assistant Professor Dr Scott McArt at Cornell University, New York. Samples were collected by Scott from the bee hives at the Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Research and then analysed by David Sossa (technician) and Nico Baert (lead chemist) in the chemistry facility.
The beeswax was then shipped to my studio in Wales, where I melted it down ready for sculpting.
Once I had prepared the wax, I began the delicate work of sculpting the wildflowers, using traditional techniques to make stems, petals, sepals and leaves from waxed wire, silk and paper.
Here are just a few of the finished beeswax wildflower sculptures which will be displayed together in the acrylic jewellery box.
I’ll be posting a sneak preview of the finished piece in a few weeks time but if you’d like to see my Collect Open installation in person, it will be on display from 27th February – 1st March in the East Wing of Somerset House on stand E6. If you’re visiting the fair please do drop by and say hello! Tickets are available to purchase from the Crafts Council website.
Last week was my first site visit to Somerset House, where I and the other Collect Open artists were accompanied by the Crafts Council team on a tour of the East and West Wings of the building, to see the exact location of our allocated display spaces. In 2020 the Collect Open artists’ work will be presented in a different format to that of the previous years, with the carefully curated installations interspersed amongst the exhibiting Craft Galleries at the Collect fair. I was delighted to find out that I will be sharing a stunning space on the ground floor of the East wing along with another artist who’s thoughtful and sensitive work will resonate with mine.. (more details to come later!)
Somerset House -The Courtyard
Somerset House – View of the East Wing from the Courtyard
I’m thrilled to announce that I have been selected as a Collect Open artist and will be exhibiting at Collect 2020, the International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design. Organised by the Crafts Council, Collect is the only gallery-presented art fair dedicated to modern craft and design and will take place at Somerset House, from 27 February – 1 March 2020. As a Collect Open artist, I will be creating one of the ambitious craft-lead installations, a display of handmade wildflower sculptures using traditional beeswax flower making techniques. I’m delighted to be working again in collaboration on this new project with Dr. Scott McArt, Assistant Professor of Entomology at Cornell University, New York, and I’ll be posting regular updates to show the making process and development of the piece as it progresses.
You can find further information about Collect 2020 and the full list of participating Collect Open artists in the Crafts Council press release.