all content ©2009–2017 Anna Whitehouse
In early 2016 I was asked by Printmaker and bee-keeper Laney Birkhead if I would make some work for her exhibition, Swarm, which focused on the decline of our native bees. With a brief and a deadline, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to push my specimen project, and decided to focus on pollen.
Using images from a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), I hand carved and modeled porcelain specimens of larger than life pollen grains, allowing the viewer into this beautiful and hidden microscopic world.
3 large wall pieces were produced, Spring, Summer and Autumn which show what bees are foraging on at different times of the year and importantly, what you could be growing in your garden to help stop their decline.
Before I could start making anything, I spent a month researching the seasonal feeding behavior of bees; making contact with local bee keeping associations, the North York Moors National Park Authority and scouring the extensive RHS bee friendly plant list.
Even though there were hundreds of different flowers, trees and shrubs to choose from, I was surprised to see how similar the textures and structures of the pollen grains were, also a prevalence for 3 and 6 fold symmetry became apparent, which you can see in the pieces produced.
After looking at over 200 SEM images of pollen grains I finally decided on 21 specimens that were visually different from each other, flowered in the right season and could be grown in the garden at home.
Each porcelain pollen specimen starts life as a flat circle of clay.
Over the course of 3 days the geometrical structure is built up before adorning the specimen with it's unique texture. This flat piece is then cast in plaster to create a 'stamp'. After a week this stamp is dry enough to use and porcelain is pressed into it. The press is removed and draped over a hump mould to create the convex pollen form.
This is when the surfaces can be honed, elongating spikes, deepening textures and adding in details that the plaster stamp could not produce, such as the hundreds of needle holes on the Thistle specimen.
The plaster stamp allows production time to speed up, making the pieces affordable, but by working into the texture of each press I am able to ensure the highest level of detail and finish while producing a truly unique porcelain specimen every time.
Individual framed specimens, £160
Seasonal frames: 9 specimens, £1200