By Emma Castleberry
When the temperature drops below 50 degrees, honey bees retreat to their hive and form a winter cluster to keep warm, using their honey as a food source. Matt Willey, muralist for Hendersonville’s downtown Bee Mural, behaved similarly at the beginning of December. Work on the much anticipated mural, which is located on the exterior wall of Hands On! Children’s Museum, in the Azalea parking lot on Third Avenue East between Main Street and King Street, began in late October. Willey was able to finish a cluster of bees on honeycomb and a queen bee before pulling his boom lift down for the winter. In March or April, he will return to add flowers and other pollinators to the mural. “Matt’s extraordinary mural has already sparked an abundance of curiosity from passers-by of all ages,” says Kim Bailey, Hendersonville’s Bee City USA coordinator. “Spring is the perfect time for Matt to return to paint the remainder of the hive and all-important flowers because this will inspire people to think about what they can do to give pollinators a helping hand.” This second stage of painting will take about a month, and the mural will be complete by late April or early May.
Willey started his project, The Good of the Hive, in 2015 as a personal commitment to hand paint 50,000 honey bees in murals around the world. “The idea was to create large murals to bring awareness to the importance of bees and other pollinators,” he says. “But the hive I am creating is not just about bees; it is about human connection. I share my story and stories of the bees to bring people into heart-centered focus around issues that matter to all of us. We are all one hive. Bees, trees, people, animals and oceans are all part of one thing. To imagine we are separate from any of it is an illusion.”
The demonstration pollinator garden, which was planted last fall in the nearby areas of the parking lot, will begin to bloom as Willey finishes the mural. Landscape architect Tricia King of TTK Design transformed traffic islands at this site to incorporate diverse habitat for a working pollinator garden. She included pollinator-friendly plants like butterfly weed, coreopsis, indigo, sage and white wood aster.
“The newly planted pollinator-friendly landscaping surrounding the mural will be springing to life just as educational programs are getting back under way,” says Bailey. The landscaping project is funded by a Deer Park Brand sustainability grant in partnership with Blue Ridge Parkway Association. A pollinator garden will also be planted beneath the mural when it is complete.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are more connected than we realize,” says Willey. “The bees I paint are symbols and monuments to remind us that if the bees struggle, we struggle. If we can change the way we look at a bee, we can change the way we look at each other and the world around us.”
Visitors are invited to watch Matt add the finishing touches to the mural and participate in upcoming pollinator programs. Additional details are available at HendersonvilleNC.gov/pollinator-events.