By Pamela Pyms
Have you heard the buzz? After a successful first-half fundraising initiative between Bee City USA–Hendersonville and Hand’s On! Children’s Museum, global artist Matt Willey of The Good of the Hive initiative has been commissioned to paint one of his murals on the museum’s outside wall in downtown Hendersonville. Bee City USA is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Asheville, and the Hendersonville affiliate is steered by the City of Hendersonville Environmental Sustainability Board and the Tree Board.
With fundraising still underway, Willey will complete the mural this fall. However, the seeds began germinating as far back as 2008, when he was painting in his East Village studio in Manhattan and noticed a struggling honeybee in the middle of the room. “I got out my magnifying glass and was able to really study her beauty in depth for the last two hours of her life,” says Willey. Although he had been painting murals everywhere from libraries to sports arenas for years, he had never painted anything related to the environment.
Willey’s purely artistic interest in the bee turned into something much greater. “I felt this incredible camaraderie with the bee, started doing some research and became a little obsessed,” he says. “One remarkable discovery was the bee’s altruistic behavior of self-removal from the hive; if the bee feels sick it will exit for the good of the hive because their immune system is collective, much like our own,” says Willey.
This “one hive” element awakened him to the idea of a mural about the honeybee. The first one finally got off the ground in 2015 with a beekeeper in LaBelle, FL. With little more than $500 and a leap of faith, Willey spent the next 10 weeks completing the mural, supported by the enthusiasm and generosity of the residents and businesses there. Over the years, he has become well-known for this large-scale endeavor. With a goal of painting 50,000 bees (the number in a healthy hive) worldwide, he has painted nearly 30 murals to date, featuring more than 5,000 bees. They can be found in elementary schools, fire stations, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and even farmhouses in Nebraska.
Now, Hendersonville will be home to a mural for this amazing and far-reaching project. “This goes way beyond the bees,” says Willey. “It is about bringing people together and the power of human connection when we all come together around the issues of soil, air, water and pollination.”
Willey describes Kim Bailey, coordinator of Bee City USA–Hendersonville, as a pollinator “goddess.” She is directly responsible for seeing this initiative through, which has proven no small feat. “It took three years to find the perfect spot,” says Bailey. “And I am thrilled with gratitude for every contribution made to this project so far, whether it was an idea shared, time and talent given, an encouraging word, an in-kind donation or a financial gift. It all adds up and demonstrates how everyone has an important role in building healthy communities for both people and pollinators.” The focus is on the honeybee, but this mural represents all pollinators vital for our planet. The Tree Board will also implement a pollinator garden with examples of plants that grow well in this area to demonstrate to others how they can provide a habitat for pollinators.
Joseph C. Knight, executive director of Hands On! Children’s Museum, sums it up nicely. “We’re thrilled to have the mural coming to the museum! We’re excited to spread awareness of the importance of pollinators through this beautiful community artwork.”
For more information, visit HandsOnWNC.org/hive or Facebook (BringtheHiveAlive). To find out more about the overall initiative of painting 50,000 bees in murals around the world, visit TheGoodoftheHive.com.