Melba Cooper

Melba Cooper  828-506-7559


virgin queenIn my earliest memories, I pin together fashionable flower dolls in the cool shade of mimosas in my grandmother’s Alabama garden. Thinking back on that flowery, bee-filled scene, I recall the words of M.C. Richards, the poet, potter and art educator at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College: “The Arts are our apprenticeship … the big art is our lives.”

Art is the creative thread that links together my web of experience, knowledge and intuition. I desire my paintings to follow my intuitive process and express the metaphorical intensity between myself, nature, and spirit. Using field journaling, science, poetry, design structure and observational drawing as the basis for my interpretative paintings, I explore the interrelationship between myself and the health of our environment.


Sweet ChaliceNo creature provides a more compelling view into the health of the environment than the honeybee. Our associations with the bees—hardworking, cooperative, functioning community, honoring the feminine, harmony and mercy —are bee wisdom handed down through the ages, yet all this rich tapestry of knowledge and tradition is now at risk, as bees suffer from the effects of environmental and climactic change. As I learned more about the plight of the honeybee, a cross-pollination of ideas and disciplines took place, facilitated by a broad community of people that have informed and inspired this body of work throughout its development—poets, ministers, beekeepers, gardeners, artists—as well as scholars and painters whose works have inspired me.

For example, in Queen of the Sun, a collection of essays about bees, Horst Kornberger wrote about “drawing on our human capacity to Queen’s Purseconnect compassionately with nature and in this case with the essential nature of the bee.” This compassion was kindled in me by some lines in the first paragraph of The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, describing the “high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.” I immediately felt physically connected to this sensation. Later in the process, I was inspired by a beekeeper/homilist at Circular Meeting House in Charleston, SC who spoke of that zone within the hive where the Queen lives as “the place where the liminal veil is the thinnest,” a place where we experience the vibrational warmth of being a part of all of nature, both as a grounded experience and as a cosmic wonder.

Perhaps because these sensations and images of the fragrant, resonant darkness at the heart of the hive have captivated and sustained me, some have asked, on seeing the paintings: “Where are the bees?” My Bee Balm Redresponse is that these painting are about sound and energy, fragrance and health. As in the paintings of Charles Burchfield, energy and resonance themselves become visible. The paintings are interpretations of bee energy but also expressions of the powerful and rich symbolism of cellular health, represented by the perfection of the honeycomb.

The bees are also quite literally in the paintings. I have used a beeswax based medium (cold wax) mixed with traditional oils.

When I start making the painting I have no idea what it’s going to look like; and as my desire has been to paint the hive at a deep cellular level, envisioning wellness, the complexity of the subject has taken me beyond representational art. This shift towards abstract expressionism is compelled by my awareness that this aesthetic draws me into a felt and unseen reality.

The Other SideThrough the process of creating 100-plus paintings, the personal context of this essential insect’s powerful meaning has entered me: the hum resides deep in my heart and I come back to it as I move forward with a painting. With the intention to paint wellness—of environment, bees, self, society—I attempt to represent harmony, industry, health and the interconnection of all life. In contributing my own energy to the process, I both heal myself and communicate, I hope, healing to those who participate with me by viewing the paintings.

I invite you to follow this “Path of the Pollen” with me as I imagine and long for the hum of healing, cooperative community and a sacred regard for Mother Earth.

“Find metaphorical intensity with nature; therein is the mystical union.”

Quote by Emily Carr, West Coast landscape painter

oil, cold wax oil, printmaking