Q&A: Anna Metcalfe and Kristy Allen

Q&A: Anna Metcalfe and Kristy Allen

Library Salon Series: Pottery, Pollinators, and Public Engagement

Anna Metcalfe picnic kits

Anna Metcalfe's pop-up pollinator picnic kits

Renee Yamada

On September 14, the fall ACC Library Salon Series kicks off with "Pottery, Pollinators, and Public Engagement," a conversation between Minneapolis-based ceramist Anna Metcalfe and beekeeper Kristy Allen of The Beez Kneez about the ways craft can engage communities and support environmental sustainability. We asked them a few questions about their work. 

Describe what you make.
Anna Metcalfe: I make art in response to the natural world: a swollen river, the internal vibrations of a beehive in the winter, a meal of fresh vegetables, a warm brown chicken egg, freshly laid. Even as powerful is my desire to understand and respond to the human needs that exist in my community: the gap in access to good food between privilege and poverty, the tension between agriculture and water quality, or a beekeeper’s hive that dies because of a neighbor’s pesticide.

My aesthetic voice is shaped by the language of pottery – quiet tactility and usefulness. Equally important is the language of engagement, which I believe is inherent to ceramics. Through interactive and collaborative projects, I raise awareness about water, agriculture, food equity, and urban sustainability. Clay, a medium that finds its way into every home as a sink, a dish, or a decorative object, is a ubiquitous and tactile material. I use it as a springboard for engagement and collaboration.

I use narrative to connect objects and people together. Many of my projects are platforms for other members of my community to share their stories. These collaborations manifest in many ways: traditional recipes narrated by Hmong family elders printed onto blue and white porcelain plates, teenagers’ stories about the Mississippi River printed onto sculptural hanging boats that float through space, or a ceremonial set of cups honoring the Ethiopian coffee ceremony shared with a community of immigrants.

Kristy Allen: At the mercy of the bees and our environment, I make honey. I try to build community around the need for bees through creative manners if communication. I dress like a bee and deliver the honey as a constant reminder – as a way to engage and reach our community. I partner with many land owners to host our hives in and outside of the city. I teach classes through Camp Beez Kneez about beekeeping to strengthen those who wish to become stewards of bees and, in turn, bee activists. I create events and spaces that foster the intersection between art, food, and advocacy.

Kristy Allen beekeeping

Kristy Allen beekeeping

Renee Yamada

How did you become interested in pollinator activism?
AM: I came to pollinators through food. I've always been interested in eating good food. It's a part of the culture of ceramics and my own family history. Over the years, my affection for good food turned me to thinking about all of the complexities associated with our food system. I have been thinking about the ecosystems connected to the food we eat: cultural ecosystems, political ecosystems, and of course natural ecosystems. Bees are connected to our food chain so directly that everywhere I looked in my research about food, it became evident to me that bees have to be a part of the conversation when we talk about sustainable agriculture. They are in trouble, and therefore we are in trouble. They need more voices talking about how important it is to protect them, feed them, and support a biodiverse agricultural system in general.

Recently, with all of the tough things happening politically and socially in our country, bees have become symbolic of how I think about community. Their overall health depends on so many factors outside of their control, and in a really direct way, our health ultimately depends on their survival. That is much like how healthy communities work too. I'm reminded of how much my health and happiness depends on the health and happiness of all of the other people in my neighborhood, or city, or country. Bees help illustrate the interconnected nature of our health and happiness in a profoundly beautiful way.

KA: Even before I became a beekeeper, I was a food justice advocate. I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in global studies and discovered how broken our food system has become. Food is an essential aspect of living a healthy, happy life. Pollinators are at the heart of a healthy food system, and they are dying. As a beekeeper for the last eight years, I have personally experienced three pesticide kills and been exposed to many others. Every beekeeper has a story about losing bees to pesticides. This is unacceptable.

Anna Metcalfe picnic kit

Pop-Up Pollinator Picnics

Renee Yamada

Share one important fact we should know about honeybees.
AM: One important fact that might be helpful to know right now as the season is changing is that honey bees live all winter long together in their hive. They need to keep the core of the hive between 93 and 96 degrees throughout the winter. They do this by clustering together to create heat - even when it gets below zero outside the hive. This means that they need to stock up on calories to get them through the winter. So planting flowers that bloom late into the fall helps them a lot.

KA: My favorite fact is that they communicate with each other using the most sensual of senses: dancing, pheromones, licking, and touching. The most important fact you should know is that honeybees are social insects – meaning they work together to further their existence. Humans must eat, and bees must eat, and we depend on each other to eat, so our relationship with our food system is critical to both of our future existences.

What are you most excited to talk about at the Library Salon Series event?
AM: I am really excited to talk about the connection between socially engaged art, community development, and craft.

KA: I am most excited to talk about how Anna Metcalfe and I are collaborating to bring awareness to many communities.

What is your favorite/most read book about making (any kind of making) in your personal collection?
AM: A book that I always find myself reading and re-reading is One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity by Miwon Kwon. It changed the way I think about community, and it continually informs how I think about artmaking and social change.

KA: Honeybee Democracy by Dr. Tom Seeley helped me realize how bees function as a brilliant society and we can learn so much about their collective decision-making.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.