A Love Affair With Bees

Brigid's Garden, painting by Judith ShawI have fallen in love with bees. I must admit that I didn’t really think much about bees until the collapse and disappearance of bee colonies began in 2006.   That was the beginning of my journey into the secret life of the hive.

In typical fashion for an artist I began reading about bees and creating art about bees, while toying with the idea of becoming a beekeeper. Finally in 2012 I took the plunge, built a topbar hive, got a swarm, and began the adventure of living with bees.

Though my two years of beekeeping have not been successful I plan to continue. The first year my hive got infected with wax moth worms which slowly destroyed the hive despite my best efforts to get rid of them without using chemicals. But even though the colony did not make it, while they were living and working they pollinated the veggies I had planted in my small backyard garden, giving me the best yield I’d ever had.

My bees from last summer were much stronger than the first hive but did not make it through the winter. I was so sad in February when I realized that the guard bees were gone and the bees flying in and out of the hive were robber bees from elsewhere. Checking the hive, I discovered that all the bees were dead.

It seems a bit odd to feel affection for these tiny little flying insects that sting but I have gotten attached to having them close by. I just love watching them fly around the hive in late afternoon when the sun glistens on their fluttering wings. They look like golden flying jewels. I love the sound of their buzzing and the smell of the hive. I love watching them stumble around the flowers likes drunken sailors, their little legs laden with heavy loads of yellow pollen. I love opening the hive and seeing their amazing organization and cooperation as they create and work their honey combs. And of course I love the sweet honey that they make, which hopefully one day I will be able to harvest.

You can read more about bees and our long relationship with bees and Bee Goddesses on my recent post on the Feminism and Religion blog site.




Spring Equinox – Life Renews Again

Starseed, painting by Judith ShawToday marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a day of perfect balance – the hours of light and the hours of dark are equal.  Cultures all around the world celebrate new beginnings and new life on or around this day.  This is a time when the human family can renew our faith in the promise of rebirth; in whatever way we choose to honor life.

Poppies, painting by Judith Shaw

Watching spring blossom all around, I am reminded that we are all connected in this web of life.  The darkness of winter brought nutrients to the soil as last year’s life decomposed, nourishing the seeds and bulbs that lay waiting in the darkness of Mother Earth.   The early flowers are in bloom, opening their sweet faces to the glory of the sun. The seeds I planted a few weeks ago emerge from the earth, with the promise of fresh salads and tasty greens to come.  And baby lambs are born at this time.

Molivos Before, painting by Judith Shaw

Life Awakens, painting by Judith ShawThough our planet faces a multitude of difficulties, the yearly arrival of spring lends a sense of hope in our ability to create a balanced, harmonious world.  May we each take a moment today to be grateful for what we have and to reflect on what we can do to manifest a more harmonious earth.

Etain, The Shining One

Etain, Celtic Goddess, painting by Judith ShawMy recent blog post on Etain, Celtic Goddess, on the Feminism and Religion blog site generated much lively discussion about why and if Goddesses who have been changed by the patriarchal world view should still be considered.

Etain (pronounce Ay-deen), a Celtic Goddess called “Shining One”, was originally a Sun Goddess before becoming a Moon Goddess and one of the White Ladies of the Fae.  Her story, which lasts over one thousand years, reveals Her place as a Goddess of Love, Transformation and Rebirth.  Elements sacred to Etain are the sun, dawn, the sea, rain, water, butterflies, apple blossoms, and swans. She is associated with healing and the transmigration of souls.

Etain shows us that we can overcome even life’s most difficult circumstances. She teaches us that though beauty, wealth and position might fade away we can regain our shining light. She lights our way on the path of transformation, guiding us toward balance, wholeness and rebirth.

To read about Her story and various responses to this post visit FAR – click here. Look for a follow up post that explores my feelings about these Goddesses on a deeper level.

Community Art – Engage, Connect, Express

community art drawings by Judith shawCommunity Art is a term used to describe creative activities that bring together the different people of a community. Community Art gives people the chance to learn new creative skills and to use these art skills to voice their concerns about and desires for their community.

I am honored to be one of five artists selected to work with a Community Art Project in Albuquerque, NM. The multimedia project, funded in part by a NEA/Our Town grant, is called Stories of Route 66 – International District.  It is the first part of a years-long project that will impact various neighborhoods in Albuquerque.

A growing association of very different partners came together to realize Phase One of this project.  Littleglobe, who for more than 10 years has been actively facilitating community art projects, leads this phase with poet, Valerie Martinez, as project director.  Littleglobe’s experience shows that large-scale community projects bring community members together with compassion and tolerance, enabling the community to generate positive developments for the benefit of their neighborhoods.

As a refugee relocation city, Albuquerque’s International District has been a fusion of cultures since the 1970′s.  The International District, with 27 different languages, is now home to people from Vietnam, Latin America, Asia and Africa. In addition the district has the largest population of Native Americans in Albuquerque and is home to many Hispanic/Latino, Anglo and mestizo people. It is a district that faces many challenges – high unemployment, poverty, crime, infant mortality, and substandard living accommodation – all coupled with very little political influence.

international district community artWe began our weekly community art/dialogue sessions on January 12.  Each session begins with a circle where one of the team artists leads an activity meant to generate energy and build communication. We clap, we stomp, we make sounds, we share with our neighbor.  Then we dive into two different art activities each week.

Internation National District community artOur first Sunday together we created a 32 foot long drawing by tracing our hands and then drawing an image of something we love -  something we treasure -  next to or in our hands.  Next we connected our treasure to our neighbor’s treasure.  Finally we all walked around the long drawing and added more wherever we felt the desire to do so.  Everyone seemed to have a great time and the long drawing turned out awesome.  Connections were beginning.

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international district community artOn our second Sunday, 1/19, we continued to develop our stories with creative activities.  I led the visual art component in which each person created an “I Am” drawing, including their names, something to represent where they came from, something they love about where they live now and something they love to do.  Personal lives, cultures and histories began to unfold.

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Monica Sanchez led the theater arts component.  She organized everyone into small groups.  Each group was to “act” like a family, assigning a different role to each.  Then they created three different family portraits around an imaginary family event.  We had some weddings, a funeral, a birth, a birthday and some family arguments.   Each group acted out their event by freezing in position as if they were the photograph.  Roles were assigned in a non-logical way, children were grandparents, men were brides.  Connections were made amidst much laughter and merry-making.

international district community artOn our third Sunday, 1/26, we were so excited to see the trust that was developing between everyone involved. We sensed friendships forming and respect growing.  Erin Hudson and Billy Joe Miller both built on the previous week’s activities with their projects.

international district community artErin used video and audio to further develop the story of the treasures they hold in their hands.  Billy Joe used props and frames to bring the family portraits they had begun to the next level.

Leaders and helpers from the participants are emerging.  Several of the youth have been using the camera and capturing some fantastic shots of our fun.

The diversity of cultures in the International District makes it fertile ground for stories of place, culture and history. Ultimately our weekly sessions will culminate in three temporary public art installation and/or performances.  As we meet each week we will build trust and develop new skills.  The group will decide what they want these three installations to be.  This long process will inform the design and building of a permanent “story plaza” to be built on Route 66/Central Ave by a nationally recognized artist.  It is a groundbreaking approach to public art.  It is an approach that gives voice to the people of the community where the public art will be.  It is an approach that empowers people who often have no power. It is an approach that creates connection through creative engagement.

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Merida Trees, painting by Judith ShawBrilliant,
the sun
glows golden
in my mind’s eye, reminding me of
the connectedness of all things

Winter Solstice – A Time for Reflection

Persephone, painting by Judith ShawIn the Northern Hemisphere Winter Solstice, usually December 21,  heralds both the time of deepest darkness and the beginning of the return to light.  It is a liminal day offering a transformation from darkness to light.

In the mid-latitudes in the ten days after the winter solstice the hours of sunlight increase by only a few seconds up to a minute or so.  The world slows down allowing a time to relish the quiet of long nights and the inspiration of winter dreams.

One of the most well known stories about the transformative nature of this time of darkness is the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter, Earth Goddess of Grain had a daughter, Persephone.  Persephone lived in the golden glow of her Mother’s love and protection.

But like all youth she was compelled by curiosity and divine force to begin a journey of completion.  Persephone was walking in a meadow one day and she saw the beautiful narcissus flower – the flower of death. As she reached down to pick the flower, the earth split open, releasing Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. Hades then took Persephone, willingly or otherwise, in a Spiral Dance into the shadows of the underworld.

Read my full essay on Winter Solstice, Persephone and two other Goddesses in their dark aspect, Inanna and the Cailleach on the Feminism and Religion Blog. Click here.

Trees – Givers of Life

sonoma trees drawing by judith shawI have been drawn to a visual exploration of trees since my early days as an artist. In recent years the call of the tree has been even louder and more persistent. I believe that on some level I am hearing the pain of our dying forests and their cry for help.  It is my desire that by honoring their strength and their beauty on canvas and paper that in some small way this contributes to a growing awareness of our interdependence with trees.

tree of life painting by judith shawSince the beginning of recorded history our ancestors have understood the importance of trees.  The Tree of Life is a universal symbol found in cultures and explored by artists worldwide. This symbol expresses the understanding that trees connect the spirit world and the physical world as their branches reach up to the heavens while their roots spread out within the Earth.

Solstice Tree by Judith ShawAround the world, different cultures have considered specific trees to be sacred in specific ways.  To the Celts the birch tree, as one of the first trees to grow on bare soil, was seen as a tree of beginnings, renewal and regeneration.

The olive tree whose fruit and oil plays a central role in Greek food and healing was sacred to the Greek goddess, Athena.  The olive branch is a symbol of abundance, glory and peace.

Some trees are sacred to many cultures. For instance the oak tree was sacred to the Greek god, Zeus.  Celtic Druids performed rituals and ceremonies in groves of sacred oak trees.

the mother tree,painting by Judith Shaw

The willow tree is associated with death and rebirth. It was sacred to the Egyptian God, Osiris. It sheltered his body after he was killed.  As a tree of rebirth, it was also sacred to the Celtic White Lady, goddess of death. In Buddhism, a willow branch is one of the chief attributes of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Christian churches in northwestern Europe and the Ukraine often used willow branches in place of palms in the ceremonies on Palm Sunday.

tangle of cottonwoods 72As is happening in so many areas today, modern science is discovering the scientific truth of the ancient wisdoms.  We now know that trees are the lungs of our world.  In an endless, interconnected cycle, human beings breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which the trees then breathe in and complete the cycle by breathing out oxygen.

The story of trees begins two to three billion years ago as a slimy layer of vegetation began growing on the barren rocks of the earth.  Photosynthesis began and small stalks grew. Slowly over millions and millions of years these stalks became ferns.  About 350 million years ago the Earth was covered with a forest of giant tree ferns.  These giant tree ferns removed carbon from poisonous gases and released oxygen, making the air breathable. With cleaner air, more sunlight reached the Earth causing more life to grow.

A Medieval Forest, painting by Judith ShawThe first trees grew out of these fern forests.  About 290 million years ago the first woody trunks and branches appeared.  These woody trees had strong roots, anchoring the tree in the ground.

Autumn Cottonwood,painting by Judith ShawTrees had and continue to have a key role in creating and maintaining healthy soil. Their roots break up and aerate rock and hard clay and hold down the soil.  Falling leaves enrich the soil with organic matter. Today we have to contend with dangerous chemicals and pollutants that enter the soil. Trees can store harmful pollutants and actually change the pollutant into less harmful forms. Trees filter sewage and farm chemicals, and reduce the effects of animal wastes.

Spirit Tree, painting by Judith ShawTrees create watersheds in a variety of ways. Tree leaves release water vapor, drip water into the ground below and provide shade thus preventing evaporation.  After a large rainfall, the trees’ root system helps prevent flooding and mudslides.

Even more amazing is the connection between trees, bacteria and rainfall.  Bacterial colonies living on tree leaves are carried up to the clouds by high winds.  In the clouds ice crystals form around these bacteria, which get heavier and then fall, seeding the clouds and causing rain to fall on the forest.  This rain, full of rich nutrients, washes off the minerals left on the leaves by evaporation and falls down to the ground, nourishing the little plants under the trees and soaking the soil.  From here the nutrients and water will be pulled through the roots and up to the whole tree in a never-ending cycle of reciprocity.

Olive Grove by the Sea,painting by Judith ShawWith the increasing output of carbon dioxide by our industrialized world, the necessity of healthy forests is imperative. But sadly we have been losing millions and millions of trees over the past few decades. In 2012, almost 100 million acres of tree forests were lost in Siberia.  In the United States, 8 million acres were lost.

the olive tree,painting by Judith ShawIn recent years beetle infestations, caused by warming winter weather have caused mass tree deaths in American forests.   The Mountain Pine Beetle has killed hundreds of millions of trees from New Mexico to the Yukon Territory.  In Colorado alone, an estimated 7.4 million trees died between 1999 and 2009.  Tree deaths have doubled in the last few decades even in what appear to be healthy, well-established coniferous forests, with no evidence of epidemic infestations. Unfortunately, this escalating death rate is not being matched with a corresponding birthrate of new trees.

Dance of the Olive Grove, painting by Judith ShawForests act as huge carbon sinks, capturing and storing carbon dioxide.  According to the research group, The Global Carbon Project, trees, oceans and other plant life, removed approximately 54% of all carbon dioxide created by human activities globally during the period 2000-2007. But this helps stop the bad affects of burning fossil fuels only until the tress die because trees release their stored carbon as they decompose. Some scientists believe that mass tree deaths from global warming could contribute to yet more climate change.  As dying trees release their stored carbon, this contributes to the warming climate, which in turn contributes to more tree deaths. This ongoing worsening cycle could hasten climate change from the predicted timescale accepted by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

heart tree, painting by Judith ShawScience has taught us that without trees and all the ways in which healthy forests contribute to our world, the earth’s atmosphere would be inhospitable to human life.  If human activity has contributed to the plight of our forests, then human ingenuity can find the solutions to the problems we face.  All it takes is the political will coupled with a rebirth of the consciousness of the interconnectedness of all life.  As the ancients knew, the tree gives us life in so many ways. The Tree of Life is a powerful and truthful symbol.