By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O for the Orange County Arts Commission
David Hinkle designed and built the new bee hotel, a habitat for solitary bees, in Gold Park on Hillsborough’s Riverwalk. Solitary bees are “awesome pollinators” and the unsung heroes of our food supply. Hinkle estimates that only 5% of people know what a solitary bee is, yet they account for 90% of the bee population.
Solitary bees do not have the social structure of honey bees, but some are communal, living near other solitary bees. This parallels the way Hinkle works. “The nature of the work I do is by myself,” although he gives credit for the hotel’s “high level craftsmanship” to his friends from other disciplines who advised and contributed. “This is the first public art work I’ve ever done,” says Hinkle. “I’m not a public type of dude.”
Solitary bees nest in tubes and tunnels or burrow into loose areas such as gravel. The hotel has several sections within the larger frame artfully packed with materials such as bamboo tubes, blocks with pre-bored holes in them, and some piles of broken terra cotta. The bamboo, “a strange plant – it’s almost like an alien,” is sourced from a small grove in the corner of the park. The hotel is also interspersed with pine cones, although Hinkle admits, “The pine cones are just there because my mom liked them.”
Hinkle holds a masters of landscape architecture from N.C. State and primarily does residential design and building of structures such as patios, decks, and retaining walls; projects where “you design for the people and you design to nature.” For the bee hotel, Hinkle was chosen after a public call for submissions. Not knowing where the site was, he was thrilled to learn the hotel would sit next to a pollinator garden. He applauds the Riverwalk as “unique and special” and he finds the community’s positive response and its excitement “overwhelming.” He was amazed at the creative experience he had as an artist. “A lot went on spiritually and emotionally” and he learned to “trust and be open to it.” He added, “I’ve almost been a spectator… bubbling and exciting stuff was happening… that wasn’t scripted or planned.” One example is that Hinkle began carving fist sized bees two years ago – before he ever heard of bee hotels. Those bees will adorn the side posts. A book he picked up at the thrift shop gave him the idea for the large, iconic bee affixed to the gable. He pulled many materials from piles of random objects assembled over the years, noting, “Most of this is not from the Home Depot.” Hinkle works out of the back of his car. “The Prius doesn’t make a good truck, but that’s what it’s become.” He feels the most important thing government does is “provide opportunities for people,” pointing out that “government was part of making this happen.” Universally, he finds people respond to the hotel with exclamations about its beauty and uniqueness. “People have never seen anything like it before.”