Cath Keay – Work in progress and update

Here are some words from Cath –

From Hereford Library’s collection I took home images of 450 pages from books on bees dating from the 16th century to the 1930s. I have been sifting these for instances of writers projecting human morals or righteousness onto bees (or the evil temperament of bees’ enemies), examples which say more about the author than the insects. Such anthropomorphising is to reinforce their own vision of society, and is usually delivered to instruct how others should behave.

‘They are temperate in diet, no gormandizers or drunkards among them (the drones excepted); decent in apparel wearing always homespun gowns and those always neat and clean.’ (James Bonner 1789)

More modern works in the collection cut to the chase and advise beekeeping as a way of improving the lower orders.

‘I hold that all employers of labour would do well to encourage their servants to spend their leisure hours in a profitable way’ (A Pettigrew date?)

‘… they spend not their riches in riots and drunkenness so neither in lust and wantonness or carnal concupiscence.’ (Rev John Thorley 1744)

The writers sometimes entirely contradict themselves, talking about bees’ meekness, sobriety and unending dutifulness, and then a few pages later describing the massacre of drones or raids on other hives. Some of the language and old printfaces are tricky to unpick:

‘If Emets bee neer your Bee’s dey will much trubble dem, biting dem and hanging upon dem.’

I have also selected 29 images of Watkins’ photos that are beautifully staged to idealise beekeeping. They show men and women holding lengthy poses for the camera next to swarms and skips, with no protective garments.

I am currently working to combine these images and two others from my photographs to compile a Book of Hours that can cover one month. The quotations will not be used as straightforward titles nor clearly illustrative of each image, as I want to encourage subjective responses from every individual reader. The pages might be bound or enable the viewer to shuffle and happen upon combinations of image and quotations that will conjure fresh connections.

‘The beehive where honey is turned into wax is the confectioner’s bakehouse where he makes up the refined sugar into sugar plums for good boys and girls’. (Rev John Thorley 1744)

cath's sketchbook 2 cath's sketchbook 3cath's sketchbook

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