A Separate Universe

A Separate Universe is an encaustic mixed media piece by Bridgette Guerzon Mills
Bridgette Guerzon Mills | A Separate Universe, encaustic mixed media including paper from a hornet’s nest, 13 x 9 5/8 inches

Many years ago when I had my first outdoor installation of my book art sculptures I created a page that included the paper from a hornets nest. Ever since then I always wanted to return to that and create another one, but for indoors. And not in a book, but stand alone to be hung on the wall.

I finally got to it this past month. I created it on plaster cloth and encaustic, as I did the first time around. But it just wasn’t getting it done for me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I didn’t like the transition to the wax? I didn’t like the edges? I can’t even remember now, so I let it sit for a bit. And then it came to me. I just wanted more texture that imitated the the circular motion of a hornet’s nest. I did this with torn strips of cloth. I have always had a thing for torn edges and stray threads.

The bottom part looks like birch bark, but it is encaustic. But still, it wasn’t done. And then. The blush of pink from the underneath side of a strip of bark in my stash caught my eye and I knew that was it.

The master creator of course are the hornets. And I find the whole process fascinating. The nest is constructed of paper‑like material made from chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva. The nest is composed of 3 or 4 tiers of open-celled combs within a multilayered outer shell made of this same paper. An opening at the bottom allows the hornets to fly in and out of the nest. Each nest is built from scratch each year by the colony and there is only one colony per year. The queen is the only one that hibernates through the winter. When she comes out of hibernation in the spring she is the one that begins the construction of the nest and then lays eggs. These eggs become the first workers to continue the construction of the nest and then continue the duties of foraging and taking care of the larvae so the Queen can focus on producing more eggs. The previous year’s nest can not be reused.

I posted a recent piece that also used part of a nest and I had been looking up poems or writings about wasp and hornet nests. There are a ton out there! It’s not surprising I guess. They are creative wonders as well as something you don’t want to stumble upon. Again, that fear and wonder. They just want to be left alone though, just as we do, I think.

The Wasp’s Nest 
by Wren Jones

Plant stems and wood fibers mesh with waters,
thin grey sheets emerge from yellow and black
queens, gift wrapping precious oval sack, 
as hexagon wombs, birth larvae daughters.

Insects caught, chopped, and fed to first girls 
who share their sweet syrup with hungry queen, 
girls birth boys, boys birth work, new wasps seen
over and over, thousands of lives unfurl.

Then empty of sweetness and life, they’re gone,
a paper mache shadow left swinging 
from a branch all winter. Spring winds lifting, 
dropping; smash their world on the ground.

I want to be like wasps, creating life
and sweetness in the sky, to disappear.

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