Red Stems, 17 x 11.25in, Charcoal and Pastel on Paper, 2013
My interest in hornet’s nests and their material and construction is more than passing, as I studied paper-making (under the superb Michelle Samour) for a year-and-a-half at the Museum School in Boston. I have created sculpture from my own handmade paper, and so I am well versed in its properties. The nests are simultaneously simple and deeply intricate, their structure is both hidden and in plain sight. They are constructed of true paper – in that a fiber (rotted wood or plant stems) is pulped via maceration with saliva, and laid down in hundreds of thin contiguous strips forming a strong, light, self-insulating envelope. That evolution has come up with this ingenious and dimensionally viable solution for sheltering the young of a species is something I hold in awe!
As soon as I thought about drawing hornets’ nests, I realized they actually hold a personal metaphoric tie to me. I was brought up by a strong, isolating and difficult mother. The nest of the Dolichovespula Maculata (aka. Bald-faced Hornet), my main subject, is established by a single, bigger-than-everyone-else, queen. Beginning to end, she drives the action – producing a literal “caste” of characters. There are the female workers who are hundreds of identical sisters, and do all the construction, food gathering, protecting and child care. And then the stingless drones – who late in the season fertilize the new young queens (living only three weeks for their trouble). These young queens then then fly off, over-winter, and emerge to establish new colonies the next spring. I am intrigued by the idea of a hidden domestic world: An efficient household and nursery, entirely female-run, very active and real, where the only “expectation” is to replicate other, equivalent worlds.