Embroidery hoop containing different barks and fur embedded into honeycomb

WORKS – Honeycomb Collection by Ava Roth

In ALL, WORKS by McKenzie Prillaman

Ava Roth is an encaustic painter, embroiderer, and mixed-media artist based in Toronto. She also happens to be a beekeeper, and is currently working on a collaborative art project with her honeybees. From this project, Roth and her bees are producing a body of work entitled the Honeycomb Collection.

In this interview with Art the Science, Roth describes how this project began, what it means to make art alongside honeybees, and the impact she hopes to make.

Yellow starburst pattern embroidered onto circular embroidery hoop. Hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Starburst, Yellow and Gold (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19” x 19.5”; beeswax, Japanese tissue, water paint, embroidery floss, beads, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame   
Yellow starburst pattern embroidered onto circular embroidery hoop. Hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Starburst, Yellow and Gold (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19” x 19.5”; beeswax, Japanese tissue, water paint, embroidery floss, beads, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame 
Porcupine quills laid out in starburst/flower patterns on an ovular embroidery hoop. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Porcupine Quill Flowers (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Toronto, ON; 19” x 9.5″; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, metallic floss, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame

What is the Honeycomb Collection?

This collection of work is the result of a collaboration with thousands of local honeybees. Each piece begins in my studio with the creation of a mixed-media collage and then moves into a hive for honeybees to embed in comb.

When and why did you start working with honeybees?

I started working directly with bees about three years ago, after working as an encaustic artist for several years. Being immersed in wax gave me tremendous appreciation for it as a medium, and it was not long before I began to learn more about bees themselves. The more I learned, the more deeply I became involved.

“Being immersed in wax gave me tremendous appreciation for it as a medium”

Ava Roth
Rounded embroidery hoop with tissue paper and long, cascading horsehair. Embroidery hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Falling Horsehair, Dark (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19” x 19.5”; beeswax, Japanese tissue, horsehair, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame
Circular embroidery hoop with cream and gold starburst pattern on tissue paper. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Gold and Cream with Encaustic (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Toronto, ON; 19″ x 9.5″; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, metallic floss, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame
Rounded embroidery hoop with two stripes of porcupine quills on a turquoise surface. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Porcupine Quills, Green and Gold (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19” x 19.5”; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, seed beads, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame
Rounded embroidery hoop with two stripes of porcupine quills on a turquoise surface. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Porcupine Quills, Green and Gold (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19” x 19.5”; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, seed beads, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame

Did you always intend to combine your passion for art and beekeeping?

I did not set out to combine art and beekeeping—the practices came together slowly and organically. Their synthesis has been an extremely rewarding experience.

Has collaborating with honeybees presented you with any surprises?

The process of making visual art with honeybees has been full of surprises. Because bees in this area only make comb in the warm summer months, work on this project is conducted on their schedule. This is determined by environmental factors, such as sun, pollen conditions, etc. The necessity for me to slow down and synchronize my work to the cycles of the seasons has had a profoundly calming effect on me.

Rounded embroidery hoop with woven stripes of porcupine quills. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Woven Porcupine Quills (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19″ x 19.5″; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, metallic floss, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame
Rounded embroidery hoop with woven stripes of porcupine quills. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Woven Porcupine Quills (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19″ x 19.5″; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, metallic floss, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame
Circular embroidery hoop with thin pussywillow branch down the center and stripes of porcupine quills on either side. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Porcupine Quills and Pussywillow (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Toronto, ON; 19″ x 9.5″; beeswax, Japanese tissue, porcupine quills, metallic floss, beads, embroidery hoop, pussywillow branch, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame

“The necessity for me to slow down and synchronize my work to the cycles of the seasons has had a profoundly calming effect on me.”

Ava Roth

What impact do you hope to make with the Honeycomb Collection?

Honeybees are often considered a harbinger of the health of our planet, and their mass global disappearance is interpreted by many as an indicator of our environment’s peril. The aim of this project is to explore the boundaries of where humans collide with the natural environment and imagine a more beautiful outcome of this encounter. 

Circular embroidery hoop with tissue paper and a smaller circle of embroidered gold beads in a starburst pattern. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb surrounded by honeybees.
Fancy Gold Inlay (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Niagara, ON; 19″ x 9.5″; beeswax, Japanese tissue, metallic floss, seed beads, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame
Self portrait of Ava Roth embroidered on linen in a circular embroidery hoop. The hoop is embedded in honeycomb.
Self-Portrait (2020) by Ava Roth in collaboration with the bees of Toronto, ON; 19″ x 19.5″; beeswax, linen, embroidery floss, embroidery hoop, honeycomb in custom Langstroth hive frame

For more by Ava Roth, visit her website or Instagram.

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About the Author
McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie is a fledgling science communicator working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has a background in neuroscience, and was a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After years of thinking she’d become a neuroscience researcher, she discovered her passion for sharing science with others. That finding, in combination with her lifelong dabbling in the arts, led her to write for Art the Science's blog. In her free time, she can be found volunteering with the Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes, trying new foods, and wandering around her home of Washington, D.C. Twitter: @meprillaman