Cath Keay

Bees are social animals with complex communications and perceived hierarchies and emotions. I searched Hereford Library’s Watkins collection for examples of writing where the author projects human morals or righteousness onto bees (or the evil temperament of bees’ enemies), examples which say more about each author and the era in which he wrote, than any fact about these insects. Such anthropomorphising reinforced their vision of society, and was delivered as rather high-handed attempts to improve the behaviour of the masses:

‘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)

I selected images from Watkins’ glass photographs showing men and women holding lengthy poses for the camera amid swarms, skeps and smokers. I reproduced selected quotations in pen and ink, the medium most likely used by each author. This painstaking process lends a sense of austere righteousness to the text.

I have compiled a Book of Hours comprising thirty -one ‘lessons’ for every day in a month. The quotations I have selected are interspersed with Watkins’ images to conjure fresh connections between these early observations and how we live today.