The discovery of an unexpected gift of honey in her yard led Red Deer artist Dawn Detarando on an exploratory journey to raise awareness and appreciation for bees.
Detarando’s ceramics exhibition, In Adoration of Precarious Bees, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery, gives viewers a glimpse into the dangers bees experience every day – from parasites, chemicals and even genetically engineered flowers that produce less nectar.
“I haven’t even touched on the weather and climate change,” Detarando said. But at some point during the creative process, the artist decided she also wanted to create positive images that capture a brighter future for bees.
Detarando became intrigued by small pollinators a few years ago when she and her husband, Brian McArthur, found an occupied beehive in the back of one of their duck nest boxes on their property in South Red Deer.
After the hive was abandoned, they found about five pounds of honey inside.
Later, the couple made two attempts to catch swarms of wild bees. As their beekeeping efforts ultimately proved fruitless, Detarando became more aware of the variety of bees buzzing in her garden.
According to the Alberta Bee Council, there are over 320 species of bees in Alberta.
Detarando noticed fluctuations in the number of bumblebees, leaf cutters and wild bees visiting his garden.
Unbalanced nature is at the root of part of the problem. Varroa mites, first found on imported European bees in Hong Kong and Singapore, have been weakening bees in North America since 1987. These oval red mites are shown clinging to the back of a bee in the dimensional wall plaque of Detarando showing a honeycomb.
But most of the fate of bees is caused by humans. Detarando is concerned that the continued use of lawn and garden chemicals will cause insect populations to plummet. His art shows sculptures of chemical spray bottles that are – ironically – beautifully embossed with the very wildlife they threaten.
“Many of us know that chemicals are bad for bees and birds, and yet when we have an ant or wasp problem, we pull out our spray cans,” Detarando said.
Several of its relief designs incorporate dandelion motifs. While many homeowners spray to kill these weeds, the artist learned that dandelions actually offer essential nutrients to bees, especially in early spring when few other buds are present.
The life force of insects is depicted by Detarando using colored glazes only around where bees are shown pollinating large, eye-catching ceramic flowers that turn white and hang from a wall in the exhibit.
Throughout the gallery, the artist revels in the beauty and rich colors of plants that bees help propagate in wall hangings that depict rows of flowers teeming with insects.
Detarando, who worked with McArthur in their company Voyager Art Inc. for a few decades, has an MFA from Ohio State University. The couple created public art in Red Deer, Alberta and Canada.
Detarando’s solo exhibition, In Adoration of Precarious Bees, allowed him to spread his artistic wings and create a body of diverse works – ranging from painted plaques to three-dimensional sculptures – that show bees as “beautiful little beings”.
She hopes the exhibit will inspire viewers to think about the importance of these pollinators to our gardens and ecosystem. The show runs until August 20.