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Bee inspired

Muralist Matthew Willey came to Narrowsburg to paint a hive, and found a community already abuzz

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If you’ve taken a stroll past the Narrowsburg Post Office recently, you’re sure to have seen something out of the ordinary: a man perched on a ladder with a paintbrush in hand, working to make the stripes just right on one of a swarm of bees taking over the brick wall.

By this point, you’ve probably heard of Matthew Willey, whose mission is to paint 50,000 bees on murals across the U.S. to raise awareness about the plight of the bee population.

Willey, originally from Boston, MA, but currently living in Asheville, NC, has been hard at work the last couple of weeks. That anyone would be so cheery situated for hours in the 90-degree heat is bewildering. Willey’s uncanny delight comes from his passion for the work he’s doing and the action he wants to inspire.
“I want to create a symbolic healthy hive in hopes that it will make people want to help the real ones,” Willey said.

On a hot weekday, as Willey added brush-stroke detail to the antennae of a nearby bee, he discussed the project’s inception. He was sitting in his studio apartment in the East Village of New York City one day in 2008 when a honeybee flew in and landed on his carpet.

“I was able to get down on the floor and look at her closely, and I noticed so many things about bees that I hadn’t before,” he said. “I noticed how cute she was. There was a fuzziness.”

Drawn in, Willey began to research bees. Their future was looking grim. He read up on terms such as “colony collapse disorder,” a condition where worker bees leave the hive and not enough make it back, causing the hive to suffer and eventually collapse entirely.

Willey also learned about a condition called altruistic suicide. A bee that knows it’s sick will fly off into the abyss—for the good of the hive. “It does this because it is hardwired to understand that its immune system is collective,” he said.

He described that moment “like a lightning bolt. I realized that I have the same relationship to humans as bees have with each other. It’s more about the human species than the individual.”

So began “The Good of the Hive.” Willey is fierce in his mission, though he’s just beginning. He’s painted somewhere around 5,000 bees on murals across the United States. 

Narrowsburg, a town becoming more bee-themed each year, is the perfect place for it.

Joan Santo, Charles Wilkin and Martin Higgins—local business owners who organize Narrowsburg’s Honey Bee Fest—worked to bring Willey here. A plans and progress grant from the county, plus community donations, raised enough money to fund his project.

Since his arrival, Willey has generated excitement, in town and on social media. A talk he gave in town July 29 was well attended and featured poetry by local writer Bernie Creamer.

Willey says his inspiration for the mural in Narrowsburg is the essence of the people.

“It’s close-knit here, everyone relies on each other and there’s a strong sense of community,” he said. “Murals are not paintings, they’re screenplays, they’re moving. You’re kind of a jerk if you don’t consider your audience.”

To reflect this sense of community, Willey painted the bees close to one another and situated them right on their hive. “They’re kind of a festival of bees, and they’re close to home.”

Willey encourages activism. Anyone can make a difference, he said. Sometimes all it takes is one bee landing in a studio apartment.

“We don’t have just a voice, but a life,” he said. “And what do we do with that life? I chose to do what I love for my life. And I’m doing it here today.”

To follow Willey’s journey, visit: www.thegoodofthehive.com.

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