The exhibition Wild Bees: Photographs by Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman, opening at the Bruce Museum on April 14, 2018, features approximately 26 exquisite photographs of wild bees in their natural habitats, along with native bee specimens that can be viewed under a video microscope, an interactive website, bee houses, and giant model bees at 20x scale.
While many people are aware of the collapse of European honeybee populations, fewer know that native insect pollinators are declining globally due to a combination of habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticide use, pathogens, and invasive species. Native bees pollinate both wild plants and agricultural crops – many of which cannot be pollinated by honeybees. Wild bees are important pollinators of wildflowers, garden flowers and commercial crops including fruit trees, berries, melons and garden vegetables, yet their significance in sustaining healthy ecosystems is often overlooked.
The photographs in the exhibition are part of a three-year wild bee project undertaken in July 2014 by photojournalist and writer Paula Sharp and nature photographer Ross Eatman to document wild bees inhabiting New York’s Rockefeller State Park Preserve and neighboring Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve, located in Pleasantville, New York, is a haven for wild bees. Careful management of the park’s meadows and trail edges has resulted in a proliferation of native bees, which are attracted to the park by its diverse array of wildflowers — among them, wild azaleas, countless spring woodland bulbs, American white water lilies, four varieties of milkweed and large swathes of dogbane and meadow flowers. The preserve’s Visitor Center garden also contains a range of native plants that provide nectar and pollen for wild pollinators.
At the heart of Rockefeller State Park Preserve lies Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an eighty-acre non-profit working farm that practices sustainable agriculture and serves as a farming education center. Stone Barns cultivates a multitude of crops, fruit trees, vegetables and cut flowers. Its grounds contain a greenhouse and several flower gardens, including a bee garden situated beside a colony of beehives.
This arrangement fosters a dynamic ecosystem in which domesticated honeybees and other pollinators travel between woodland nests and flora in the preserve and flowering plants in the agricultural production areas and gardens of Stone Barns. The result is a richly diverse population of pollinating insects that includes more than 100 documented species of wild bees. The exhibition captures the astonishing diversity of shapes, colors, sizes and lifestyles of the insects that play an essential role in our planet’s health.
The Wild Bees exhibition is supported by Guardian Life, The Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund, the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Green Fingers Garden Club and Knollwood Garden Club. Additional support comes from a Committee of Honor under the leadership of Cricket Lockhart and Ingrid Delson. Museum Coordinator is Science Curatorial Associate Cynthia Ehlinger.