The Bee Meadow Sculpture
‘The Bee Catcher’
Wendy and I thought long and hard before we came up with the idea for our sculpture. We wanted something that represented the honey bee, but didn’t want to be to obvious and just do a bee. We wanted something that represented the science behind the project and thought about a microscope – graphically shaped with the history of bees etched onto a Perspex sheet representing the microscope slide – but it too seemed to obvious and not very attractive and we wanted our art to be beautiful.
We then came up with the idea of a flower. Initially, that too could have been quite weak as an idea and would represent the meadow but not necessarily the honey bee. But that idea grew! The problems the honey bee has with its loss of habitat due to increasing industrialisation and urbanisation of our landscape would make a flower made from metal and aluminium very symbolic. So then the issue was what flower? And then it became obvious.
We chose the FOXGLOVE to represent our Environmental Art project for two main reasons. The first and most obvious reason being that the ‘Foxglove’ is known colloquially as the ‘Bee Catcher’. As a plant it is steeped in folklore that involves witches and fairies, so it is quite a magical plant. Secondly, foxgloves, which have been native to our country since the fifteenth century are now fast disappearing from the English countryside. They used to be found in open woods, scrub land and woodland clearings on banks and road verges, but they are getting harder and harder to find, just like the honey bee which has inspired this whole project.
Then the magical bit: The flowers are purple or white and often dappled, and some say that the dappling occurs when elves and fairies touch the plant! More importantly the markings are clearly visible in UV light, which is important as UV light is clearly visible to bees. When a bee lands on a flower it can crawl right up inside the flower hence the name ‘Bee Catcher’ and because the bee can get right inside the flower its whole body gets covered in pollen which helps cross pollination as the bee flies from flower to flower.
Foxgloves have featured in gardens for centuries, they flower in summer and the stalks can grow up to 4-6ft high. With its distinctive shape and size it therefore translates quite beautifully to an enlarged sculpture.
Foxgloves also have a Warwickshire connection. Although most know that it is poisonous if eaten, and should be kept away from small children, foxgloves have historically been used in herbal medicine and are still used today in drugs used to strengthen the heart and regulate heartbeat. In fact it was Dr William Withering from Warwickshire who, in 1785, discovered that ‘digitalin’ strengthened the heart.
The more scientific name of ‘Digitalis’ translates as "measuring a finger's breadth," which seems appropriate as the foxglove flowers are perfect for poking your finger into! But an old myth says that the name comes from old English ‘foxes glofa’ meaning ‘foxes gloves’. It is said that fairies would give foxes the flowers to wear on their paws which would magically protect them as they made their nightly raids on hen houses. It is also said that witches would make an ointment from foxgloves which they rubbed on their thighs to make them fly!
Most importantly folklore tells that you must never harm the plant or the fairy folk will have their revenge on you!