Close up of a skep, a traditional beehive.

Workshop 1: Beelore – Exploring our Fascination with Bees (2015)

Our first workshop in July 2015 explored the world of bees and beekeeping, looking at traditional and current stories and their scientific basis. Before the workshop, the project team had spent some time trying to get our heads around the basics of bees and beekeeping, by interviewing beekeepers, going out on hive inspections, reading contemporary beekeeping literature and earlier manuscripts at the Moir Library collection at Fountainbridge and NLS Rare Books Collection (well worth a visit if you haven’t been!).

The workshop brought together a range of participants including beekeepers, storytellers and those interested in finding out more about the world of beekeeping and its stories. We were delighted by the turnout and the generous, open way that everyone shared their own experience, valuing the experiences and expertise of others. Because of the mix of backgrounds, we encouraged everyone to question everything, especially including myself, Toby and Niamh!

Sharing Stories

We were fortunate to be joined at the start of the day by Catriona Davies from our project partner Tay Landscape Partnership (TayLP), who provided an overview of their work and the bee colony regeneration project.

After a quick icebreaker involving the design of your very own ‘bee tattoo’ in response to ‘what do bees mean to you’, we moved into discussing some of the folklore and stories around bees and beekeeping. Each table had a particular topic, such as swarming, telling the bees, or disease management with a set of prompts on each. The full set of prompts are available (Prompts used in workshop), but here’s a few examples:

Like people, bee colonies can have very distinct personalities. Not all colonies are equal! Sometimes it is said that ‘buzzy’ or ‘angry’ bees are more productive. (Interview observations)

“…the bees can access the ability and demeanour of individual beekeepers…” (W S Robson, 2011, Reflections on Beekeeping)

The best time for drivinge of bees is from the 20th of June to the first of July, because that by this time bees have gathered together some quantity of honey, wheareof some money and profitte may arise to the owner; and likewise from this time till Michaelmass [29th Sept.] they will againe recover and gather together livinge enough and store to keepe them over winter. (Seventeenth-century instructions concerning when to drive the bees out of the hives in order to collect honey.)

If thou wilt have the favor of thy bees, that they sting thee not, thou must avoid such things as offend them; thou must not be unchaste or uncleanly; for impurity and sluttiness (themselves being most chaste and neat) they utterly abhor; thou must not come among them smelling of sweat, or having stinking breath, caused either through the eating of leek, onions, garlick and the like, or by other means, the noisomeness whereof is corrected by a cup of beer; thou must not come puffing or blowing unto them, neither hastily stir among them, nor resolutely defend thyself when they seem to threaten thee; but softly moving thy hand before thy face, gently put them by; and lastly, thou must be no stranger to them. In a word thou must be chaste, cleanly, sweet, sober, chaste, quiet, and familiar, so they will love thee. (Columella – roman writer on agriculture, quoted in Tickner Edwardes ‘The Lore of the Honey-Bee” 1908)

creating stories

Each group used these themes and the discussions emerging from them to create a new story. These co-created stories picked up on the themes, for instance: a young bee called Honey out on her first foraging trip avoiding the smell of dogs and spotting nectar guides on flowers; or the story of magical healing bees who were stolen by a would-be beekeeper who didn’t understand their temperament or how to work with them; or the explanation of how bees might find a new home through bee communication (including head butting!).

Story apple

After a break for lunch, Liz Edwards from Lancaster University’s Highwire centre showed us the work she’s been doing at the National Trust’s Clumber Park, which includes some beautifully turned wooden story apples that when plucked from the apple tree in their orchard tell the holder stories. You can read more about her work here:

thinking about technology

Liz’s talk presented sensitive examples of how technology could be embedded into outdoor environments, moving beyond the development of a mobile app to use natural materials and intuitive interfaces and interactions. For the final part of the day then, we took Liz’s talk as inspiration, along with a series of ‘inspiration cards’ illustrating different creative approaches to bee-related information and artworks. Each group again went away and reflected on these cards, thinking about ways that the earlier created stories might be retold, e.g. through creating video based virtual hives, honey dispensers that showcase different viscosities of honey types, interactive soundtracks, and augmented interactive games.

By the end of the day we had created a new set of stories, made new friends and set the wheels in motion for the next follow on workshop!

You can download the inspiration cards here.

Workshop 1 took place on Tuesday 21st July, 2015, at Perth Subud Centre, Scotland.