DURHAM, North Carolina — Employees at Burt’s Bees took a break from office duties Friday to help paint a mural on the west wall of the company’s West Pettigrew Street headquarters. Eight employees at a time climbed on scaffolding and painted a few petals of a flower purple. When completed, the mural will have a bee hive, flowers and a string of honeybees.
Burt’s Bees started as a candle-making company and has since branched out to produce lip balm, lipstick, sunscreen, lotion and other products. Their products are dependent on the health of honeybees, which pollinate an estimated 80 percent of fruits and vegetables worldwide. The employees were contributing to guest artist Matthew Willey’s bee mural. To raise awareness of bee hive loss, also called colony collapse disorder, Willey has pledged to paint 50,000 bees — a number that represents a thriving hive — in murals across the country.
“The idea is that the honeybee is in every community in the world,” Willey said. He will spend about two weeks completing the Burt’s Bees mural, then help paint murals at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill and a fire station in Carrboro. He has projects booked for two years, including murals in Kentucky and Manhattan. “It’s one giant art project,” and the bees will connect different communities, all of which depend on the work of bees, he said. “It just keeps going from there.”
Burt’s Bees heard about Willey’s project TheGoodoftheHive.com when he did a social media fundraiser. Because the company supports honeybee health and habitat preservation, Burt’s Bees began looking for a place to put one of the murals, according to Paula Alexander, the company’s director of sustainable business. Willey embedded the words “Burt lives on” in the honeycomb portion of the mural to honor company founder Burt Shavitz, who died last year.
Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby started the company in Maine in 1984, making candles from bees’ wax. Their products expanded, and the company moved to Durham in 1994. Clorox has since bought the company.
Scientists have not determined a single cause for bee hive loss. The problem got worse in the 1980s, when new pathogens and parasites were introduced, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bee population loss during the winters of 2006 and 2011 were about 33 percent each year, the USDA reports. Losses in winter 2014-2015 were about 23 percent, but beekeepers reported higher summer losses for 2014, the USDA reports.
In addition to support for the mural, Burt’s Bees’ foundation also supports bee preservation. The company is sponsoring a “Bring Back the Bees” campaign. Contributors are asked to send a post by Twitter, drop the letter “b” from the words, but include the hashtag #BringBackTheBees. For each tweet, the company will plant 1,000 wildflowers.
Visitors to the headquarters building also can look at the Burt Shavitz Memorial Observation Hive to learn more about the importance of honeybees. The hive is contained behind a sheet of glass. Bees go in and out of the hive through a tube that goes through the roof.
Willey, who lives in Asheville, has painted murals for the Washington Wizards, the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., and others. He will have painted his 1,000th bee sometime in June. Burt’s Bees’ is the first time he has used volunteers, and he said he enjoys how everyone came together to contribute.
Maria Davis, who works in creative services, had not participated before in a mural or public art project. “It’ll be fun every time I walk by here to know I contributed to the beautiful piece of art on the wall,” Davis said.
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