Story, video and photos by Jonathan Stumpf
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
If the flora south of the Admiral District appears brighter and more productive these days, you can probably thank local artist turned beekeeper Gary DeBoer.
What started back in the summer of 2008 as a curiosity about the lack of honey bees in the his neighborhood has now turned into a passion to inspire others to become “a little more aware of our relationship to this spaceship we are on,” DeBoer explains.
After keeping fairly detailed charts about the insect activity in his yard, he decided to join the Puget Sound Beekeeper Association and quickly launched his hobby with beginner classes and regular monthly meetings.
But it’s not just the beekeeping for which he’s gaining renown – it’s the artful containers in which the bees live:
In the class, the instructor was coaching him to paint the hives as a way of protecting the wood but suggested something other than the the traditional white. Since the Pacific Northwest is a cooler climate, he advised using a darker color, such as green, so they would absorb more heat.
“It was at that moment,” said DeBoer, “I started to think how I wanted to paint my first hive. Not being much of a follower of tradition, I ended up painting my first hive based on an abstraction that had formed in my head during our classes.” Thus began his passion for beekeeping with an artistic touch.
You’ll rarely find DeBoer in the traditional beekeeper protective dress. “I am very comfortable just scooping them up if needed with my bare hands,” said DeBoer. “While I have a bee suit, I have only worn it once early last year. I have no problem to open the hive and conduct the necessary management while only wearing shorts and a t-shirt.”
What do the neighbors think of his new hobby? “I’ve had many conversations with my neighbors reporting the noticeable difference in the flora bloom,” said DeBoer, “and the increased fruit in their trees. I was surprised not one of them expressed any fear when they learned that I had a hive.” And that was the impetus for him to inspire others to take up the hobby.
Starting small, he convinced a few friends to sponsor hives on their property and presently has numerous hives throughout properties in West Seattle and beyond, as both art creations and additions to people’s natural backyard worlds. “Having a hive in your backyard improves the flora health in that there will be more flowers in the future,” said DeBoer, “and more fruit in your fruit trees.”
DeBoer says it is time-consuming to paint the hives, but his thought have always been to create something that would not only serve as a home to the bees, but as an art object.
“I figure it is a means to draw attention to the real value, the bees,” mused DeBoer. “It is something I learned ages ago in a college art class, to paint in a manner that forces the eye to look closer, with curiosity, and then notice the wonder inside. Hopefully [observers] will ask more questions and perhaps change a little bit in their interactions with the environment.”