The Buzz Returns to Downtown Hendersonville as the Bee Mural Project Resumes

Muralist Matt Willey will return to Hendersonville March 29, depending on weather, to resume and finish the Bee Mural he began painting last fall.  When temperatures in the winter drop below 50 °F (10 °C), as they did by early December, honey bees retreat to their hive and form a winter cluster to keep warm -- sort of like a giant three-month slumber party. In the same spirit, the painting of the Bee Mural downtown came to a stop the first week of December.  But soon the buzz will return to the exterior wall of Hands On! Children’s Museum in Azalea parking lot at Third Ave. E. and King St. when Willey, on his boom lift, will add flowers and other pollinators to the handsome honeycomb of bees and their queen already painted.  He expects it will take a month to finish the project.

A demonstration pollinator garden, planted last fall in the nearby areas of Azalea parking lot, where the work on the mural is most visible, will also come to life as Willey, the bees, and springtime begin to return.  Landscape architect Tricia King of TTK Design transformed traffic islands at the site into a diverse habitat to serve as a working pollinator garden and demonstration plot for the community.  In addition to butterfly weed and coreopsis, for example, springtime visitors will see indigo, sage, and white wood aster.  All plants are labeled for easy reference, and King designed the pollinator-friendly garden to be handsome year-round.  The garden bed directly below the mural will be planted once the mural is finished.  “Bee hotels” to provide nesting sites for docile solitary bees such as mason bees will be installed this spring by Spriggly’s Beescaping.

Willey, who established his company, The Good of the Hive, with a mission to paint 50,000 honey bees on walls around the world, said he has occasionally had to over-winter a mural project due to onset of cold weather.  “Sometimes I just have to stop and wait for warmer weather.  I look forward to returning to complete the project in Hendersonville with flowers and other pollinators.  The interest in the community for this special mural has been heartwarming.  So many folks and businesses have participated to make this project possible.”      

Public Invited

A number of events are scheduled to involve grown-ups and children as Willey paints and helps educate about the importance of bees and pollinators in the environment.

  • Saturdays in April – Bees and Blooms.  Once mural painting resumes, vendors and exhibitors offering pollinator-friendly products and information will join Hendersonville Bee City USA at the mural site, weather permitting.    
  • Hendersonville Bee City USA Pollinator Trail – A new self-guided tour of eco-friendly gardens, green spaces, farms, and local destinations that highlight the importance of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.  Information will be available this spring on our website.
  • April 1 - May 15. Habitat at Home Photo Contest hosted by Conserving Carolina. Submit photos or videos of 1) native plants, 2) projects to improve wildlife habitat where you live, and/or 3) wildlife (pollinators included) seen at or near your home. Garden-themed prizes will be awarded.  
  • Hands on the Hive Painting Day – Date/time to be announced.  Small groups of socially-distanced bee mural sponsors, students, and community members will have the opportunity to paint outdoors with Matt at the mural site (at ground level, no one on the lift).  This is almost like a paint-by-the-numbers event, where muralist skills are not required. Matt will have the lower sections of the mural outlined and ready for folks to participate.
  • April 22, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Pollinator Gardening Lunch & Learn hosted online by Blue Ridge Community College’s Bee Campus USA affiliate.  This virtual event will describe how to create a garden buffet for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds … and how they will help you grow pawpaws, passionfruit, blueberries, serviceberries, ground cherries, roselle, herbs, edible flowers, and more.   This event celebrates Earth Day.  Registration information will soon be available. 
  • Bee Mural Celebration Event – Date/time to be announced.  An official ribbon-cutting and dedication event is being planned to celebrate the completion of the mural.
  • A series of video updates about the bee mural project is posted online along with information about upcoming events.

School teachers and students are especially inspired with this project, according to Hendersonville’s Bee City USA coordinator Kim Bailey, both by visiting the site and in the classroom. “We’ve seen teachers come up with so many creative ways to use the bee mural project to help keep students interested in learning every single day.  We’re honored to be a small part of the educational efforts taking place in in-person and virtual classrooms across the community.”

Why Are The Mural and Pollinator Garden Important? 

In addition to its classroom aspects, this project helps extend the children’s museum’s mission of inspiring creativity and wonder through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) to the entire community, according to Joseph Knight, executive director.  Additionally, the mural expands the growing art appeal of downtown Hendersonville’s ArtScape banners, colorful hand-painted bears, and the large handsome mosaic nature scene created by Ukrainian mosaic artists in the 1990s … all of which make downtown Hendersonville a family-friendly arts destination. The Bee Mural is included on the Appalachian Mural Trail along with five other murals on or around Main Street.  Most significantly, according to many bee-mural enthusiasts, it points to the important agricultural businesses and farm-to-table movement in Henderson County, acknowledging that honey bees and other pollinators are important to the community’s economy and heritage.

To encourage and assist homeowners and residents in selecting plants to support pollinators, Hendersonville Tree Board has updated its List of Recommended Species and expanded the section devoted to wildlife and pollinator habitats. In addition to locally adapted native flowers, grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees the list includes locations of demonstration pollinator gardens open to the public. The updated list will be posted by March 19.

How the Bee Mural Project is Funded

“Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of this whole project has been the overwhelming enthusiasm and support we have seen from many different segments of the community,” Bailey said.  “So much so, that the project is wholly funded by donations from the community.  It is heartening to know that whether you have an agricultural interest, a gardening interest, an educational aspect, a child’s eye, or even an artistic leaning, neighbors and friends across the area want to reflect their appreciation for pollinators and their importance to our lives and the ecosystem.”

Fundraising events and in-kind support during the past two years have involved numerous businesses, individuals, and organizations, with 65 sponsors and countless other contributors so far.  From apple growers, to nurseries, to artists, schoolchildren, nonprofit organizations, beekeepers, food and beverage-related businesses, many individuals, garden clubs, and more, a diverse group has come together to support the Bee Mural Project. The community raised money or provided in-kind donations to pay the artist, prepare the wall where the mural is painted, and install the pollinator demonstration garden … no tax-related funds were used.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available.  Funds will be used to enhance the pollinator gardens, add educational signage, and expand learning experiences and/or exhibits related to pollinators.

The landscaping project is funded by a Deer Park Brand sustainability grant in partnership with Blue Ridge Parkway Association. The grant is designated for projects that inspire individuals to preserve the ecosystems within our communities.  Henderson County Tourism Development Association applied for the grant on behalf of the Bee Mural initiative.  In addition, Botanical Treasures, a local wholesaler, donated the majority of the nursery-propagated native perennials for the project.

The Bee Mural Project is a partnership of Bee City USA Hendersonville (a program of The City of Hendersonville Tree Board and Environmental Sustainability Board), Hands On! Children’s Museum, and The Good of the Hive, in partnership with nonprofit organizations, schools, local businesses, and community members.  The goals of this initiative are to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators; bring beauty and character to downtown Hendersonville; celebrate the power in human connection, and inspire actions to help sustain healthy ecosystems.  Follow the bee mural initiative’s progress.  Learn more about Willey’s mission and mural projects.