The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) is a small art center at 4848 Main St., Houston, dedicated to contemporary studio craft and shows work made by artists working in the United States.
“We have four studios located in the building, and we provide the artists with 24-hour studio access as well as a modest stipend,” said Perry Price, Executive Director of Contemporary Craft. “We just ask that for a certain amount of days a week they keep their studio doors open so that visitors to the museum can come stick their heads in and ask questions and learn a little bit more about the process and materials.”
HCCC shows multiple exhibitions a year, with some shows having self-generated work from the residency artists, and others from collaborations from other institutions. HCCC also offers education programs, tours, workshops and summer camps.
“In our galleries you get to see the finished work and in the studios you get to see the work in progress. We feel that is a pretty unique thing to be able to offer. There are not a lot of residencies in museums. We feel that they are open to the visitors as a part of the museum’s experience,” Price said.
The artists work with a variety of craft media that includes clay, ceramics, furniture, fiber, metal, jewelry, glass and more. A lot of the material comes from the craft garden, which is where the bees come into the picture.
HCCC is believed to be the only craft museum in the country that has a garden. The garden is managed by volunteers and it is planted with a variety of native plants. The plants are then used in craft processes. For instance, there is bamboo for basket making and cotton for spinning and weaving.
“I have personally been interested in beekeeping since graduate school. One of my professors was an amateur beekeeper,” Price said. “I came to HCCC from Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota has a strong beekeeping science program. While I was there, they had formed a partnership with the Minneapolis Institute of Art to put a hive on their roof as a part of showing the importance of bees as pollinators to an urban environment. That had been in the back of my head.”
Having the craft garden was an opportunity to host the pollinators. HCCC did not have the staff capacity to manage their own hive, so Price enlisted the help of Bee2Bee Honey Collective, founded by Nicole Buergers.
According to Buergers, Bee2Bee originally started just as a beekeeping hobby. She noticed that local beekeepers were giving honey away because they didn’t know how to properly market themselves, and therefore Bee2Bee Honey Collective was born.
“I thought I would form a collective of beehives in different neighborhoods throughout the city, mentoring people who wanted to get into the hobby, providing beekeeping services to commercial properties and selling honey online and wholesale by neighborhood, with a strong website and social media presence,” Buergers explained.
It was initially just going to be a side project, but over a year later, it is now her full-time job with more than 50 hives throughout the city and about 20 clients.
Buergers notes that bees are important everywhere, specifically in urban areas. Honeybees thrive in urban areas, with higher honey yields, better honey and better health.
“The urban honeybee tends to do better than rural bees because of the diversity of plants, lack of industrial pesticides and lack of stress from being transported. Plus, we want our neighborhoods to be beautiful with flowers, gardens and trees,” Buergers said.
“Nicole and her cooperate manage the hive for us. She comes periodically to check the hive to see how they are doing. Eventually, once they start producing enough honey, she will manage harvesting that for us,” Price explained.
“Maintaining the hive at HCCC is like any other hive – it all depends on the colony. I make sure the colony is progressing well and remains healthy with maintenance checkups. The beehive is on a rooftop, which is a little challenging when hauling up equipment or dousing a smoker, but the staff at the HCCC are always helpful and accommodating,” Buergers said.
Price believes that, between the craft garden and other plants in the museum district, there should be plenty of sources for the bees to pollinate, and hopefully produce enough honey. If there is enough, Buergers will bottle the honey and HCCC will sell it in their gallery. They also hope to harvest the wax and use it for educational components.
“If you ask five people for a definition of craft, you will probably get five different answers,” Price said. “We consider contemporary craft to be a discipline within fine art. The contemporary craft artists are artists that are more preoccupied with process and the use of material. What is common in public perception is that there is this idea of the handmade object, on a small scale such as soap or beer. Doing something like honey certainly ties into that.”
Price continued, “The craft garden is a wonderful place to sit, and it also has a strong interpretable component where we try to talk about the natural origins in a lot of materials in the crafting process. We can now talk about the bees and the native plants, and their role in the ecosystem. It can help make the craft garden a more well-rounded experience for visitors.”
Of course, HCCC is taking some precautions to having bees nearby. The hive is up on the roof, so Price thinks that the bees might not even be noticed, but the center is keeping medicine on hand for possible allergic reactions.