Turquoise Belt Buckle (1973)
Before I fell in love with bees, I had a love affair with jewelry making.
In the early 1970’s, when I was in my 20’s, I apprenticed with master silversmith, Nino Padilla in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who I met when I took his jewelry-making class.
For nearly two years, I was a young grasshopper at the side of Nino’s work bench. With wisdom, generosity and humor, he taught me the fundamentals of jewelry fabrication. Back at my work bench in my apartment, I applied those lessons and mastered techniques through repetition: sawing, soldering, and finishing. The work could be tedious but I loved every minute of it. When I moved back to my home state of Michigan, I taught jewelry-making classes and sold my work at art fairs.
My love of honeybees began recently while on assignment for the Michigan Alumnus magazine. I accompanied a UM student group as they tended the hives in their apiary and wrote a first-person account of the visit. On a cool afternoon in September, 2019 with a measure of trepidation, I entered the apiary filled with roughly 100,000 bees. The buzzing of the colony was an intoxicating low, rhythmic base line to the work.
Through my research for the story, I realized honeybees may be the most beloved insect in the history of the world. In France, the honeybee is a symbol of immortality. In Egypt, sealed pots of honey were entombed with pharaohs. In India, honey is called the food of the gods.
But today, the Apis mellifera species is in trouble. Threats including climate change, habitat loss, and pesticides are huge. It became apparent to me that honeybees are in jeopardy and needed help.
Lapis Ring (1974)
On July Fourth, 1978, Kim and I had our first date. We watched the fireworks together and lit the fuse to a lifelong love affair. We married in 1980, had two beautiful daughters and raised our family in Ann Arbor. Kim worked for 25 years as a gifted elementary school teacher; I worked in advertising and marketing as a writer/producer/creative director for 35 years.
But in November 2012 everything changed. Surgeons removed a malignant tumor from Kim’s brain. Months of chemotherapy and radiation followed but warrior that she was, Kim returned to teaching second grade.
Kim’s condition worsened, and in the last months of her life, I retired from my work to be her primary caregiver at home. Several weeks after the 40th anniversary of our first date, July Fourth, 2018, Kim lost her 6-year battle with brain cancer.
While sorting through boxes filled with a lifetime of memories, I ran across slides of my jewelry from my days in Santa Fe. I held the slides up to the light and smiled broadly remembering the passion I had for making jewelry. I decided to rediscover that passion and enrolled in a jewelry-making class. My first project was a necklace with a sterling silver wasp soldered to a piece of wasp nest.
When I showed the necklace to a friend, she liked it, but added, “You should consider making jewelry with bees”. I had an epiphany. I could make jewelry using real bees and raise money to help their plight.