SchoolArts Room

Navigating your Flight Path

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Mar 21, 2015

Several years ago I was invited to do a TedX talk and came up with program: Ten Lessons from the Hive: What Beekeeping Has Taught Me about Alchemy, Sustainability, and Community.” The beehive has many lessons to teach us. I would like to start with a favorite quote from Sue Sue Monk Kidd's, The Secret Life of Bees as a jumping off point for telling my story about my life as an elementary art educator, community artist, and beekeeper. 




Bee Yard Etiquette as applied to the Artist and Art Educator
by Melissa Hronkin
To start off she gave me a lesson in what she called "bee yard etiquette." She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places.
Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you.  
The most important question you can ask yourself is “is it a friendly universe”?  I began college pursuing a BFA in Photography and drawing with a minor in philosophy.  I spent summers working as a park ranger and adventure naturalist.  I graduated in 1996 from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and went right on to pursue a MFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  My photography was becoming more sculptural and always experimental.  I was very driven to pursue my vision, not really knowing where my life was going. 

Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. 

So, where do we go from here? I spent the next two years earning my MFA MCAD 1996-98.  Alchemy, transformation, navigation, honeybees, and a flying machine were my areas of study. 



Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. 



“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle.” So where do we go from here?  I began working in schools as a sub and tutor and decided to get my teaching endorsement.  I was raised with expectation that our job here was to contribute to society and to make the world a better place. 
If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. 
So where do we go from here?  After teaching for 6 years, I had left my studio work behind.  I didn’t have a space or a reason to create, but I felt like I had abandoned a big part of myself. At the same time, we became beekeepers and I began exploring the art of encaustics, or painting with beeswax.  Many lessons from the hive were to come.  Art shows, community workshops, summer professional development and sweet honey were manifesting.  I have found my namesake, my passion.  Who knew it was right in front of my eyes ten years earlier in my graduate school work? 
Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't.  
So where do we go from here?  So, 2 hives led to 25 and then to 75, and we purchased an historical church so that I could have a studio and we could process the honey.  Many more creative things spawned from all of this In the meantime, my school was in crisis, just like the bees and I was laid off.  All of the blood, sweat, and tears didn’t matter when budgets were tight.  That summer, I applied for and was hired at my current job, Houghton Elementary School in Northern Michigan.  Little did I know it was waiting for me all along—my ideal match. 
Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.” 
So where do we go from here?  “Just keep loving those babies”, was NAEA president Dennis Inhulsen’s response to my question “where do we go from here?" Every day and year brings new opportunities for growth.  I have learned that it really doesn’t matter to the students what degrees you have or what awards you’ve won or if you are a great artist.  What matters to them is if you are there for them 100%. That is what matters. 
Failure is and continues to be a great teacher.  We have had many ups and downs with the bees because much of farming is out of our control.  We can’t control the weather and we can’t control the home lives of our students, but we can do the best we can do for them while we have them.  The key is to maintain our sense of wonderment about the magic of it all, because it is amazing.  That fact that bees can make honey from nectar is magical and as teachers and artists, we too, are alchemists, spinning gold and resurrecting the mundane, everyday experiences and making them significant for our students.  
Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.” 
Melissa Hronkin is the 2014 NAEA Elementary Art Educator of the Year and is presenting this talk at the 2015 NAEA New Orleans Convention on Friday, March 27, at 2:00 PM in the New Orleans Convention Center Meeting Room R02, second level.