West Seattleites abuzz over Gary DeBoer’s artful beehive boxes

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.”

If you’re interested in sponsoring a hive or becoming a full-time beekeeper, e-mail Gary DeBoer at garyjdeboer@gmail.com or check out www.pugetsoundbees.org and www.wasba.org.

17 Replies to "West Seattleites abuzz over Gary DeBoer's artful beehive boxes"

  • great May 30, 2010 (11:40 pm)

    Bloom where you’re planted. I love this story! I forwarded it to a bee-keeping enthusiast.

  • Ken May 30, 2010 (11:58 pm)

    I’m not sure what you call those large bushes with the bright, bushy little violet flowers (the ones that are blooming right now), but we have two of them and they’re just swarming with bees right now.

  • Debra Wynne May 31, 2010 (6:16 am)

    This is very inspiring! I would like to do this myself (although I lack artistic ability). Thank you for sharing this.

  • CCW May 31, 2010 (7:47 am)

    Lots of bushes are swarming with bees right now, but they aren’t honey bees, unfortunately. I keep bees myself, and I still see far more bumblebees in the local flowers than honey bees.

  • jwws May 31, 2010 (8:00 am)

    Ken,

    Ceanothus

  • brian May 31, 2010 (8:14 am)

    You must get lots of honey as well for yourself or to sell? Real organic unfiltered honey.

  • sophista-tiki May 31, 2010 (8:17 am)

    neato!

  • Mark May 31, 2010 (9:52 am)

    Gary has set us up with one of his custom painted hives. It is totem pole themed hive. We’ve had it in our backyard here on pigeon point for nearly three months. It has been a fun addition to our garden, is easily managed and fascinating to watch the colony develop.

  • furryfaces May 31, 2010 (10:17 am)

    Gary…please contact Furry Faces Foundation @ furryfaces@hotmail.com or 932-1652. We have a big plant sale June 5th & 6th. Would love to have you there, displaying your bee hives (selling if you do that), and talking to people about the importance of bees, etc. Cheers F3

  • robert rizzardi June 1, 2010 (9:59 am)

    I am the father of John Rizzardi- is it true that you grew up near us . we lived on the corner of G ave & Nazareth rd from 1954=1961- in Parchment, michigan?

  • brian g June 2, 2010 (5:49 pm)

    no such thing as organic honey, they are foragers and we live in a polluted world.

  • Daniel June 7, 2010 (8:13 am)

    thanks Brian for your incredibly deep insight, however negative it may be; your luminous ray of mental sunshine is however: flawed. The honey we provide our community is far better than anything commercially available, in both flavor and health capacity. Most beekeepers pay close attention to what nectar flows thier girls are working and what sort of sprays are happening in the area as well, to ensure the highest quality harvest possible, and highest possible health of thier Hives.

  • Gary June 8, 2010 (8:50 pm)

    Thanks all for the great e-mails as well…Please give me a few more days to respond to all of them…

    Gary deBoer

  • Barb June 17, 2010 (4:44 pm)

    The hives look great, Look like the Gary I remember very creative in his art…Barb in Kazoo

  • Marina June 19, 2010 (11:58 am)

    I have a huge swarm of bees in the back yard. Looks like 30,000 or more. They need a home. Our back yard beekeeper is out of the country and we dont have an extra hive to put them in. Does anyone know some one who would like a new hive of bees and wants to catch a swarm. They are in a fir tree and would require a ladder and a saw to be removed, but look healthy and ready for capture on this cool day.

  • Marina June 19, 2010 (2:57 pm)

    Thank you for the link. It looks like they will have a new home by tonight. Marina

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