A perfect swarm

Chico Museum outdoes itself with comprehensive bee exhibit

A queen (marked with a green dot) with a few drones during a recent demo at Koehnen Ranch in Ord Bend.

A queen (marked with a green dot) with a few drones during a recent demo at Koehnen Ranch in Ord Bend.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Chico Museum
141 Salem St., 891-4336,

It’s truly everything you’ve ever wanted to know about bees, plus about a million more things.

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. But only slight.

The fascinating, new bee-related exhibit at the Chico Museum opened April 10, and bears the delightfully comprehensive name The Secret World of Bees & The Richard Marple History & Art Collection.

It will draw you in and make you want to stay for a long time, learning about and marveling over everything bee.

On display in one section of the museum is a collection of assorted bee-themed artwork, books, string holders, honey pots, jewelry, posters, sheet music, political cartoons and other “bee ephemera” (as assistant curator Audra Hoyt put it) in spades, all donated by Berkeley piano teacher and “sideline beekeeper” Richard Marple. The exhibit also features another whole room filled with educational displays related to beekeeping, honey- and candle making, pollination of almond trees, colony collapse disorder, mead-making and more, including bits of “bee humor,” mounted bee specimens donated by local entomologist Don Miller, who teaches in Chico State’s biology department, and a gift shop filled with bee-themed items.

There’s also a kids’ area called The Waggle Room where they can learn to do the bees’ food-related “Waggle Dance” according to the steps mapped out on the floor.

“We’re approaching bees from many, many different angles,” acknowledged Heather McCafferty, the exhibit’s friendly curator. McCafferty also teaches anthropology at Butte College.

“It’s very diverse within the genre of beekeeping,” added Hoyt, who worked together with McCafferty for six weeks, 50 hours per week, to put together the sensational, thorough exhibit.

Items on loan from the Kohnen family are part of the current exhibit curted by Audra Hoyt (left) and Heather McCafferty at Chico Museum.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado

And there would be no exhibit without the generosity of Marple, the man named in the title of the show. Marple, in his 80s, has been a lover of bees since he was a child.

“He got his first hive at age 14,” offered Hoyt.

Marple donated his massive collection to the local Far West Heritage Association—which is displaying a portion of it at the Chico Museum before it is installed permanently at the historic Patrick Ranch on the Midway—after not finding a suitable agriculture-related venue in the Bay Area.

Marple was familiar with the Far West Heritage Association through his association with Ord Bend beekeeper Yvonne Koehnen, who is a member of the FWHA board of directors, and whose 100-year-old, family-run bee business is well-represented in the current exhibit. (Look for the interesting display titled “Raising Queens and Sending Bees,” which highlights the Koehnens’ queen-bee business.)

Marple traveled worldwide to collect some of the items on display in the show.

Books with titles such as Bees Don’t Get Arthritis, Honey & Your Health, Beekeeping: The Gentle Craft and The Blessed Bees share space alongside an antique German bee smoker, a hive-shaped rosewood string holder from the early 1800s, a sparkly bee brooch festooned with real rubies, and an ornate European cookie-dough mold, also from the 1800s, made of solid beeswax.

A framed page from French philosopher Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedia, circa 1763, pictures the tools of the trade of the Economie Rustique of beekeeping. Diderot’s encyclopedia was banned just prior to the French Revolution, as it “promoted the power of the common people through the freedom of thought,” as the piece’s accompanying label states.

Near the Diderot piece (and the many other framed pages, posters, prints and paintings, including an 1852 poster advocating “Beekeeping for Ladies”) hang numerous song sheets with endearing titles such as “Clover and the Bee,” “When the Bees Make Honey Down in Sunny Alabam’” and “When It’s Buzz, Buzz, Buzzin’ Time in Bee Bee Bee Town,” as well as a display of vintage honey-jar labels, a 1955 movie poster featuring Joan Crawford in Queen Bee (“All honey on the outside…all fire on the inside!”) and a cover from the March 21, 1900, issue of satirical political magazine Puck, picturing a crowned bear representing Russia standing before a beehive flying the Union Jack (the issue then was, as it still is, Afghanistan).

“The life of bees is like a magic well,” reads a quote from Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch on one wall. “The more you draw from it, the more there is to draw.”

Go see for yourself.