By Paul M. Howey
As a little girl growing up in Tarboro, North Carolina, Bee Sieburg often drew pictures of her pet goat Margaret and her dog Taffy. Her interest in art never waned and she even toyed with the idea of pursuing it as a career. But by the time she became a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she’d had a change of heart.
“I chose arts education as my major after getting cold feet about making a living as a fine artist,” says Bee. She taught in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system from 1964–1968 after graduating from college. After that, she taught at Norfolk Academy in Virginia through 1971. Teaching, it turned out, was a good choice for her. “I absolutely loved teaching children. I feel like my work (today) reflects the wonderful images that they created.”
She was about to be pulled in a different creative direction when a friend convinced her to try her hand at the floral business.
Bee’s friend was a caterer. “She got tired of placing her beautiful food presentations beside ‘stiff’ flower arrangements,” says Bee. “She talked me into doing flowers.” Her first job was decorating a yacht club on the Maryland shore. “I kept forgetting things and used up all of my profit by paying the toll so many times as I went back and forth across the Bay Bridge.”
She admits she really knew nothing about the business but says she was a tireless worker and considered it to be an adventure. “I quickly found two friends to help me, including one who had a beautiful garden. We used her garden flowers as well as ‘side of the road’ flowers.” Hence her eventual business name: Wildflowers.
She continued in business from 1979 to 1985 when she moved to Winston-Salem, bringing the Wildflowers business concept with her. Here she partnered with her good friend Tillie Willis. “We did all kinds of events, making it up as we went along,” says Bee. “We had lots of energy and creativity going for us!” She says they often had their kids ride in the back of the van and hold large topiaries and flower arrangements. Bee hastens to add, “That was before the seatbelt laws!”
When she and her husband moved to St. Louis, Wildflowers also moved with them. “I called on the best caterers in the city and got a job with one. So we were off. I hired a wonderful crew and we ended up working most every weekend.”
In 1997, her husband’s job required yet another move, this time to Asheville. “I was tired and wanted to rest awhile,” says Bee. “But I saw that wonderful cottage in Biltmore Village and it called my name!” She opened The Gardener’s Cottage and encouraged her daughter Molly Courcelle to join her there. “She managed the shop, my friend Telia Blackard brought in antiques, and I did the flowers. What fun!”
By 2004, both she and Molly decided it was time to sell the business. “Molly was going to have her first baby, and I had just gone through chemotherapy for Stage III breast cancer.” She and her daughter found some wonderful buyers, and the Cottage is still going strong today.
“My experience with cancer, as strange as it sounds, was a real blessing and had many silver linings. Molly and I would have our best ‘store meetings’ during chemo at the cancer center where it was quiet and beautiful.”
No sooner had they sold the Cottage than Bee rented space in the Wedge Studios in the River Arts District. “I was happy to be back to painting, my first love, never expecting to sell a thing. I just wanted to be painting.” Molly, a painting major from Wake Forest University, soon joined her mother in another studio in the Wedge. “Life is good!” exclaims Bee.
Bee’s preferred medium is oil on canvas and board, and says she draws her inspiration from everything around her. “I take my camera with me wherever I go, whether to Europe or Fairview. I stop to take photos all the time.”
She adds that the animals from her childhood experiences continue to be important to her. “I am also inspired by beautiful scenes of the landscape, interiors of friends’ homes, broken-down houses, etc.”
Interestingly, however, Bee says she didn’t paint any floral scenes for many years. When I asked her why, she responded, “It took some time for me to feel as if I could capture flowers in paint because I knew them so well. I enjoy painting flowers, but do not find that they ‘fall off the brush’ like my animals do.”
You can see more of Bee Sieburg’s paintings online at beesieburg.com, and in Asheville at The Gardeners Cottage, Woolworth Walk, K2 Gallery, in Francie Hargrove Interiors in Cashiers, Northern Parker Interiors in Banner Elk, and Three French Hens in Charlotte. Her studio is in Wedge Studios, 129 S. Roberts Street in the River Arts District. (Photo of the artist by Paul M. Howey)