By Dasha Morgan- Wild Mountain Bees, owned by Sarah McKinney, moved to the present location just south of downtown Weaverville in January of this year. You can find all sorts of beekeeping supplies, from delicious local Southern Appalachian honeys in many flavors to various shapes and sizes of beeswax candles, to attractive jewelry, to dishcloths, aprons, to everything needed to build and protect a personal hive.
Guests are enjoying themselves at the reception held on Saturday at Wild Mountain Bees in Weaverville.
This past Saturday a Wine, Mead, Art and Bees reception was held to meet and greet the talented artist, Matthew Willey at the Wild Mountain Bee store. Many from the area came to learn more about his project and see the mural. Matthew spoke on his personal “initiative” for raising awareness of the importance of the bee in everyone’s lives. Matthew has discovered in the last few years that bees “tell an important story,” and he wants to make others around the world become aware of the “balance between humans and nature. We have a tremendous amount to learn from them.”
Matthew Willey is currently painting a large mural with flowers and honeybees on the outside of the new Wild Mountain Bees building. His work has been featured in Veranda Magazine (cover), The Home & Garden Section of the New York Times, Interior Design Magazine and many other publications. He currently divides his time between New York City and Asheville.
The incredible decline of the bee population over the past few years is alarming and shocking. According to www.phys.org online, “Beekeepers across the United States apparently lost 33 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2016 to April 2017,” and this loss has been ongoing for a number of years and has massive ramifications for pollinations and crops. Although it is a complex problem, “researchers find that many factors are contributing to colony losses, with parasites and diseases at the top of the list. Poor nutrition and pesticide exposure are also taking a toll, especially among commercial beekeepers. These stressors are likely to synergize with each other to compound the problem, the researchers said.”
Years ago when Matthew was in his studio in East Village a tiny “cute” little bee landed on the floor. He studied it for hours. This was the beginning of his interest in spreading the word about the current plight of the honeybee. He set a goal for himself “to personally paint 50,000 bees, the number necessary for a healthy, thriving hive.” So far he has painted approximately 3,000, so he still has a long way to go.
The first mural he painted in this initiative was in Labelle, Florida, at Harold T. Curtis Company. In order to do so, the laws had to change to allow murals on the outside of a building; then after making a small amount with crowdfunding, many in the small community pitched in to “make this project happen,”—by donating what they could: be it a meal or breakfast with coffee. He was totally surprised when other honey companies even pitched in to donate to the project!
Matthew has a website called The Good of the Hive. Through art and imagination, the initiative raises awareness about the current struggle and population decline of honeybees while celebrating their incredible behaviors. He clearly sees a connection between honeybee hives and human societies He wants people “to fall in love with the bees.” He wants people to be aware of this connection.
Here in Asheville a bee mural landed at Foundation Skate Park in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC in the summer of 2016. There is a lovely mural there. Many are elsewhere too. Matthew painted a mural on the fire station in Carrboro, NC, at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, at Hive Design on Main Street in Gastonia, NC., at the Burt’s Bees headquarters in Durham, N.C., and the Bee Barn in Lyons, Nebraska. There are plans currently underway to have an installation in the Dag Hammarskjold Place in Midtown Manhattan. Next week he goes to Washington, D.C. to speak to officials there.
In order to finance these amazing projects, Matthew has had to be creative with his thinking. Using some crowdfunding to raise money, as well as having owners pay for their specific project, he also sells a number of bee products to cover the initiative’s expenses. He sells colorful prints of bees, many larger paintings and a very soft T-shirt with words “The Good of the Hive” on it and a large bee. Quest University student and beekeeper Cameron Nielsen is an intern who helps with these projects. From the skateboard mural the idea of making skateboards with a bee design on them arose. Joshua Niven who is an avid skateboarder and a printmaker, suggested the idea. There are now two board designs in the Swarmboard™ product line and more to come in the future.
Matthew realized over the course of the last five years of obsessing about honeybees that his own path as an artist was “more aligned to its truth when it was being channeled toward connection–a connection to the honeybees, as well as to the hive in which he lives.” Matthew’s dream is that “every yard will be a safe place for bees”—that people throughout the world, from the Netherlands, to Iceland, and throughout the United States will be aware of the importance of bees as a pollinator and find a way to ensure the survival of the hive. His artistic talents are now directed to make the world aware of the importance of the bee by painting thousands of bees on buildings.