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Art, science merge in this bee-utiful mural

Christine Chen talks about how she created the image of the wool carder bee. Kathy Keatley Garvey/Courtesy photo

By
June 11, 2011 |

A colorful native-bee mural on a tiny tool shed in the honey bee garden at UC Davis may indeed be the most bee-utiful shed in the country.

It’s informative, educational and artistic, visitors and bee specialists alike agree.

“It’s spectacular,” said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. “It is gratifying to see our native bees get recognition alongside their most famous cousin, the European honey bee.”

Squash bee? Check. Leafcutter bee? Check. Sweat bee? Check. Wool carder bees? Check.

They’re among the 22 bees portrayed by 22 UCD students recently enrolled in Entomology 1, “Art, Science and the World of Insects.”

The art is a new addition to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.

The haven does quadruple duty: It’s a year-round food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; and it’s an educational, artistic and research garden that focuses on the plight and needs of honey bees.

The students are neither entomology nor art majors. In fact, their fields of study span 12 different majors, including engineering and computer science. Many had never heard of a digger bee, longhorned bee or a sweat bee, let alone how to depict it on the mural.

But soon they did. Graduate student/teaching assistant Sarah Dalrymple guided them on an art and science expedition that led to the design, creation and installation of the mural.

“Each student chose a different native bee species to research and then came up with a design to illustrate an interesting aspect of the bee’s behavior,” said Dalrymple, who served as the graphics project coordinator. She is studying for her doctorate with major professor Rick Karban of the entomology department.

“They painted their own composition onto a hexagonal piece of concrete board and at the end of the quarter these hexagons were assembled into a honeycomb mosaic on the side of the shed,” she said.

Most of the bees depicted — including mason, sweat, squash, leafcutter, blue orchard, carpenter and bumble bees — are natives. Also portrayed: the non-native honey bee (Apis mellifera), brought to America in 1622 by European colonists.

“When most people hear the word, ‘bee,’ honey bee immediately comes to mind,” said UCD Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. “Honey bees do provide 80 to 90 percent of the crop pollination that results in about one-third of our daily dieT. However, other bees contribution to crop pollination and are responsible for the maintenance of flowers, shrubs and trees in our forests, meadows and deserts.”

Dalrymple, who received the 2011 UCD Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award for her work, “crossed the boundaries between biology, art and culture and provided a high level of expertise and innovation in each area,” said course co-instructor Diane Ullman, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs and a professor of entomology.

“This kind of integration takes courage and the will to reach across disciplinary borders to engage students in a new way of thinking,” Ullman said.

As for Dalrymple, she said she’s always loved art and science and blending them came naturally.

“I took a lot of art classes as a kid and in high school and especially enjoyed working with oil and acrylic paints,” she said. “In college I majored in biology (ecology and evolutionary biology) and minored in Spanish at the University of Tennessee and lost my focus on art.”

The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven is open year-round, from dawn to dusk. There is no admission fee.

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Kathy Keatley Garvey

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