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Maker: Ava Roth

Maker: Ava Roth

Maker: Ava Roth

Spring 2021 issue of American Craft magazine
Author Karen Olson
Embroidery hoop artwork with porcupine quill embedded in honeycomb

Ava Roth's Porcupine Quills and Pussy Willow shown inside its Langstroth beehive frame. 19 x 9.5 in. Roth puts her art in these frames, then into hives, where bees surround it with honeycomb. Photo by Ava Roth.

Person with curly brown hair in gray overalls sitting on wooden ledge in vegetable garden

Ava Roth in the garden. Photo by Dalia Piatigorsky.

Ava Roth. An encaustic artist who also does embroidery and textile work, Ava Roth says she started collaborating with bees to create art in 2017. Because she wants a genuine collaboration, the work has been a learning process. “Instead of me saying, I want this piece to look like this, it’s been much more What can we make together?” she says.

The magic happens inside a modular Langstroth hive, commonly used by beekeepers. Inside each box, several frames hang vertically like files. Bees naturally and instinctively make their comb—hexagonal cylinders for raising their young and for storing honey—within these frames. In her first experiments, Roth created encaustic art, made with beeswax, oil pigment, and resin, inside Langstroth frames. Eventually, she wondered if she could put her work directly into the hives, where the bees could add their honeycomb.

These days, in order to start a new piece, Roth makes a collage using nontoxic organic materials such as horsehair, birchbark, porcupine quills, and pussy willows, and puts it in an embroidery hoop. “The hoop is a nod to traditional craftwork, needlework, and decorative work,” Roth says, “which have historically been sidelined or dismissed as women’s work.”

Embroidery hoop with blue fiber and beads embedded in honeycomb with bees

Bees on Indigo Encaustic, which includes Japanese tissue, glass beads, and cotton thread. 19 x 9.5 in. Photo by Ava Roth.

Next, she suspends the hoop in a Langstroth frame and guides the bees—“a crazy utopian, wild collective of females who work with the queen”—where she hopes they will build honeycomb. “Bees will, in theory, build comb wherever there is wax. So if I melt some of their wax and put it in certain areas, they’re more likely to build comb in those areas,” says Roth, noting that she couldn’t have done this work without the support of master beekeeper Mylee Nordin, who taught her about beekeeping and how to care for the bees.

After she slips the frame into a hive, Roth closes it up and wishes the bees good luck. It takes them anywhere from three days to three weeks, depending on the size of the frame, to complete their work. Roth, who lives in Toronto and works with bees in hives all over southern Ontario, makes custom-sized frames. She hopes her work will help raise awareness about the dangers bee populations face.

Embroidery hoop with blue fiber and beads embedded in honeycomb with bees
Embroidery hoop with blue fiber and beads embedded in honeycomb with bees

LEFT: Birch Bark and Fur includes encaustic medium, gold leaf, and synthetic fur in an embroidery hoop embedded in honeycomb. 17.5 x 17.5 in. RIGHT: Detail of Porcupine Quills, Green and Gold with seed beads. 17.5 x 17.5 in. Photos by Ava Roth.

Roth’s collaboration with bees has changed her. “It’s not about just making that piece of art,” she says. “Learning to stop, and to listen and respond—truly, authentically, in the moment—has enriched my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.” | @avarothart

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Photo by Charmaine Vegas.