Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center

Integrating the Arts and Natural Sciences

Gone to the Bees – Crystal Hartman

Gone to the Bees – Crystal Hartman

It is spring here at Willowtail and no better time to shake out the dust and recommence our blog!

Our first Artist in Resident (through our partnership with the Durango Arts Center and the DAC In-Residence Program) just completed her residency.

If you received our newsletter you will know that Crystal Hartman’s proposal was to study pollination and pollinators – specifically bees. (If you are not on our newsletter mailing list, please, sign up!) As is normal when artists come out to Willowtail, their art and their purpose here take on a life very different than what they may have imagined from the comforts of their own homes. Crystal began her bee research and bee art before she arrived – she dove into research, spending time reading about the unpleasant issues regarding pesticides that surround the honey bee and other pollinators; she created pieces of art using pen and ink, creating tight and detailed clusters of bees. Her work, pre-Willowtail, was self-described as, “cold […and] influenced by the harsh realities of their situation.”


Once she was here, when everyday life dissolved; once she found the bee trees* and sat, for hours, watching and listening to the bees go about their daily routine, her art work began to take on a new life: “Everything changed. My whole approach to their [the honey bees] story and the way I want to share their story is much warmer. I am now more interested in their beauty, their movements.” Crystal began to work on larger pieces (“scrolls” as she called them) with bright, warm and lush watercolors the color of honey, exuding energy and creativity. By the end of her residency Crystal’s scrolls hung from the ceiling covering walls and windows, her passion for the honey bee – its history, its purpose, its beauty and its plight – only deepening and widening.

We asked Crystal what her interest was in pollination, pollinators and the honey bee. She confided that her interest was twofold with the combination of long ago studies in femininity and an awareness regarding the wax she uses in her jewelry, which drove her to begin reading about the honey bee, who lives in wax and whose colonies are most entirely female. After a bit of research she began to “fall in love with them, they grabbed my heart.” From that moment on an interest has turned into an obsession, in the best sense of the word.


Crystal’s enthusiasm and passion are infectious. It is difficult to describe it adequately in writing (stay tuned for a short video documenting her process). We can, however, dive into the information that has consumed her by exploring here ever expanding biblography:

Brackney, Susan. Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet. A Perigree Book, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY 2009.

Lu, Chensheng, Kenneth M. Warchol, Richard A. Callahan. “In Situ Replication of Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder,” Bulletin of Insectology, June 2012.

Lu, Chensheng, Kenneth M. Warchol, Richard A. Callahan. “Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder.” Bulletin of Insectology, online, Friday, May 9, 2014.

O’Toole, Christopher. Bees: Bees: A Natural History. Firefly Books Ltd., Buffalo, New York, 2013.

Paull, Laline. The Bees. Fourth Estate, Great Britain, 2014; Ecco, United State, 2014.

Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Abrams. The Beekeeper’s Bible. New York, NY 2011, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY 2010.

Zuckerman, Laura. “Portland Bans Insecticide to Protect Declining Honey Bees,” Reuters, Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

(Willowtail’s personal endorsement for a spectacular, well-researched, fictional read is Laline Paull’s The Bees. Think Watership Down crossed with The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Crystal will be showing a selection of her work at Studio Colfax in Denver, Colorado beginning April 11, 2015.


Keep a close eye on Willowtail’s blog. We will continue to document Crystal’s process as she dives deeper into the world of bees – apprenticing with a local bee keeper, applying to other residencies where the location has been instrumental in bee history (France), exhibiting her work in additional galleries, and, hopefully, returning to Willowtail this Fall to complete (as much as an artists’ work is ever complete) her bee heavy year.

*What are the bee trees? On Willowtail’s property there are two trees that house two bee hives. These bees come and go as they please, pollinating and foraging in the ample gardens on the property.