Sandwell has become a hive of activity during August as a swarm of Bees fly in to the Arts Cafe at Sandwell Central Sixth to buzz out an unusual symphony in ‘Bee’ minor across West Bromwich.

Artist Jon Williams of Eastnor Pottery, Malvern has been commissioned by Creative Black Country to make 24 giant ceramic bees to accompany a stunning ceramic garden. With the help of Anne Scrimshaw at the Fab Lab the ceramic Bees have been given digital capacitive touch technology – the same process used on a mobile phone touch screen – so that they can buzz with their own unique sound.

The Bees started life as simple, pencil line drawings in Jon’s sketch book and were inspired by photos of real life bees and anatomical bee drawings: “Once I’d got a reasonable handle of what a bee looks like, there are so many to choose from, it was time to sit at the wheel and realise my drawings in 3D.”

Even after 25 years of making Jon still found the bee process a challenge: “New shapes and ideas still ‘throw’ up fresh challenges and require new ways of working. It was obvious from my sketches, some of the segmented body parts would need to be thrown separately and left to firm up before being assembled. The 24 terracotta bees reflect a making journey rather than a fixed idea.”

Once the technique was perfected Jon handed the Bees to Anne at Fab Lab, a state-of-the-art digital fabrication laboratory, who initiated the capacitive touch technology and miniature Arduino boards were inserted in to the Bees. “The same process used on your phone touch screen can be used on almost anything, including bees!” comments Ann.

“We also want to make each bee sound different, so you can play them like a bee piano. Of course we have never done this before, but we don’t let little things like that worry us at the Fab Lab, which is a place where anyone can come and make anything, even if they don’t know how.”

The Bees were one of the highlights of this year’s Sandwell Arts Festival which was produced by Creative Black Country on behalf of Sandwell Council and its partners. The hive will rest within the meadow of 1,200 colourful ceramic flowers, which have been produced over the past six months, in partnership with Creative Arts and 500 people from across the Black Country.

Look out for the very special Imagine That! story and colouring book starring the Bees which is free and available to pick up across Sandwell Libraries and at all of the Imagine That events throughout the summer. Written by storyteller Ian Billings, with the help of young people from The Lyng Media Club (West Bromwich), and illustrated by recent graduate Jody Lundy the story follows two adventurous explorers as they discover the fun they can have in the Black Country.

With workshops to join, plenty of things to make and do, performances to see and storytelling to hear you’ll be ready to chill out and relax in West Brom’s own Urban Beach. Let the fun come to you with an extraordinary Summer in Sandwell.

Check out the bees at the Arts Cafe until early September at Sandwell College Central Sixth.

Image by Kerry O’Coy


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