Asheville artist Matthew Willey’s mission to paint 50,000 bees on buildings across the United States started about 11 years ago — when a real-life honeybee flew into his Manhattan apartment.
“I got out my magnifying glass and hung out with this bee for like 2 1/2 hours until she died,” he says. It was the first time he had examined a honeybee with an artistic eye.
Willey painted his first honeybee mural several years later on the side of a honey company in Florida. He says people started gravitating to the project as soon as he started to work.
“I’d turn around as I was painting, and there’d be a grandfather and a young girl with face piercings that didn’t know each other until they started talking about bees,” he says. “There was this connection that was happening.”
After four years, Willey has made it one-tenth of the way to his goal, having painted about 5,000 honeybees on 21 murals across the U.S., including the global headquarters for Burt’s Bees and a Broadway star’s dressing room. Locally, he’s in talks to paint a mural for the Hands On! Children’s Museum in Hendersonville.
“It’s about creating scenarios that really bring people into connection with how fascinating the natural world is,” he says.
Editor’s note: As part of our monthlong celebration of this region’s commitment to sustainable ways of living and working in community, Xpress is highlighting some of those who are making a difference by taking action on a variety of creative and inspiring initiatives.