Maker: Ava Roth
Maker: Ava Roth
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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