My Written Thesis: The Plight of Spirituality and the American Honeybee

The work that I describe below will be on display at DAAPworks 2014. The opening is April 22nd, 5PM-9PM. Come out and support fine arts seniors!

The Plight of Spirituality and the American Honeybee

            In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to George Washington saying, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness” (Kaminksi). Agriculture in America has come a long way since the 1700’s, and unfortunately has transformed into something quite the opposite of Jefferson’s idyllic vision.

My passion for American agriculture goes hand in hand with my passion for Buddhist philosophy. I have incorporated both into my artistic practice, exploring the negative ecological effects of American agriculture with the contrasting philosophies of non-violence and compassion in Buddhist teachings. In my mind, the philosophies of Buddhism are contradicted by the practices we have put forth in American agriculture today. Studying these topics together has informed my personal connection to nature on a spiritual level, forcing me to wonder, would the leaders of this country today make more sustainable decisions about agriculture if they were more connected to their spirituality?

At this point in time, my studies have led me to the American honeybee, which has been mysteriously disappearing at higher rates each year. This phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), seems like a larger metaphor for the result of many years of disconnect between human beings and their spirituality. The honeybee is extremely important to agriculture because it helps pollinate one third of our crops (Sass). Through addressing the importance of the honeybee in a visual mandala, I hope to connect the viewer to the spiritual side of nature as well as draw attention to a problem that is being reflected in the ecology of the environment.

The first question I will determine is, “What is spirituality and how does it relate to nature?” Secondly, “What is the connection between spirituality and American agriculture?” To begin answering these questions, it is important to note that there is no single, widely agreed definition of spirituality. Social scientists have defined it as the search for the sacred, for that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration (Spirituality). In Buddhist spirituality, the concern lies with the end of suffering through the enlightened understanding of reality, cultivated through wisdom and compassion (Muesse). Suffering, in Buddhist terms, can be as simple as not eating when you are hungry. If you are suffering in any way, you are hindered from seeing the world as it really is. Wisdom – seeing the world as it really is – reveals the deep interrelatedness and impermanency of all things (Muesse). When we have wisdom, we cannot help but feel compassion. This intrinsically linked combination of wisdom and compassion is how spirituality relates to nature. What I aim to answer next is: How does spirituality relate to American agriculture?

In an article by the Huffington Post, Our Spiritual Connection to Nature, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a humanitarian, spiritual leader, and ambassador of peace and human values, talks about the connection between science and spirituality. He explains that, “Man’s knowledge of himself complements his understanding of the universe and forms the basis for a strong and healthy relationship to the creation in which he lives” (Shankar). This is where I see the connection, or rather disconnection, between spirituality and American agriculture, and further, to the American honeybee. In the livelihood of Buddhists, living compassionately means to think and act without putting ourselves at the center of the universe. In American society, agriculture is just one example of the many ways in which we have learned to act and think in self-centered ways. Our unethical and unsustainable farming methods such as monocultures and harmful pesticides have finally caught up to us, and CCD is the result.

In an article by Time magazine, The Plight of the Honeybee, Bryan Walsh discusses different views on the loss of honeybees. Tom Theobald, a beekeeper in Colorado, stated, “If we don’t make some changes soon, we’re going to see disaster. The bees are just the beginning” (Walsh, 27). Others, like journalist Hannah Nordhaus, author of the 2011 book, The Beekeeper’s Lament, wrote that, “Honeybees are the glue that holds our agricultural system together” (Walsh, 26). Walsh, who agrees with Theobald and Nordhaus, sees the loss of bees as a symbol for something even bigger: “The loss of honeybees would leave the planet poorer and hungrier, but what’s really scary is the fear that bees may be a sign that something is deeply wrong with the world around us” (Walsh, 27). Whatever the opinion is, it is widely agreed that without honeybees, life is going to get a lot harder for us.

Commercial beekeepers first started noticing the vanishing of bees from their hives in 2006. Beekeepers would open their hives and find them full of honeycomb, wax, and even honey – but no bees. Jim Doan provided one of the first documented cases of CCD. A commercial beekeeper that has been keeping bees since the age of five, Doan uncovered his bee hives and found nothing; “There were hundreds of hives in the backyard and no bees in them” (Walsh, 27). In years since, he has experienced repeated losses, his bees growing sick and dying. In order to replace lost hives, Doan had to buy new queens and split his remaining colonies. This reduced honey production and put more pressure on the few remaining healthy bees. In 2013, after decades of business, Doan gave up.

Doan is certainly not the only one that has walked out on beekeeping. Over the past 15 years, the number of commercial beekeepers has dropped by some three-quarters (Walsh, 27). While all may agree that the struggle is not worth it anymore, they differ on which of the possible causes is the most to blame. While Doan has settled on neonicotinoid pesticides, there are many other theories being studied: Nosema (a pathogenic gut fungi), Varroa mites, poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding and increased migratory stress, and environmental stressors such as the lack of diversity in nectar/pollen, availability of only pollen and nectar with low nutritional value, and limited access to water or access to contaminated water. Although it is fair to say that CCD is caused by a combination of all the theories, I am most set on the pesticide use (specifically neonicotinoids) and environmental stressors as the primary causes.

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. The neonicotinoid “imidacloprid” is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world and is primarily used in agriculture (Izuru). First introduced in the 1990’s, the chemical works by interfering with the transmission of stimuli in the insect’s nervous system (Imidacloprid Technical Fact Sheet). It causes blockage in the neuronal pathway that results in the insect’s paralysis and then death (Wallingford). It is effective when the insect comes into contact with the chemical and also via swallowing. In agriculture, imidacloprid controls aphids, cane beetles, stink bugs, locusts, and a variety of other insects that damage crops. They are different than pesticides used in the past because the crop seeds are soaked in them before they are planted, rather than being sprayed on top of (Walsh, 28). Because of this, traces of the chemicals are eventually passed on to every part of the mature plant – including the pollen and nectar a bee might come into contact with – and can remain much longer than other pesticides do (Walsh, 28). According to Walsh, “The chemical is used on more than 140 different crops as well as in home gardens, meaning endless chances of exposure for any insect that alights on the treated plants” (Walsh, 27). Because of this, neonicotinoids pose a real threat to the viability of pollinators such as the honeybee.

The whole reason that harmful insecticides were even invented was because of the introduction of monocultures in the 1970’s. A monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop or plant species over a wide area and for a large number of consecutive years (Kniss). An example of this would be a cornfield that stretches for miles. Because growing the same plant (and nothing else) in the same place year after year quickly depletes the nutrients that the plant relies on, chemical fertilizers are necessary to replenish the soil somehow (Altieri). The pesticides are needed because monoculture fields are highly attractive to certain weeds and insect pests. Although monocultures have been used for forty years, researchers of CCD are starting to realize that they prevent honeybees from having the diversity of nectar and pollen that they need; honeybees can travel up to five miles at a time, and monocultures may take up those five miles that the honeybee will forage (Traynor). So, to summarize, monocultures require pesticides that harm or kill honeybees, and monocultures lack the diversity of pollen and nectar that is essential to the honeybee’s natural intake.

Artists that incorporate the theme of the honeybee into their work as well as spirituality are Wolfgang Laib, Aganetha Dyck and Sarah Hatton. Laib, who incorporates natural materials into has work, has utilized materials such as milk, pollen, beeswax, rice, and marble. His works are more complex than just being about nature and the natural world; he is inspired by the purity and simplicity of Eastern philosophies, especially Zen Buddhism and Taoism. His work involves ritual, repetition, process, and a demand for contemplation; something I am trying to do too. In his famous piece, Pollen from Hazelnut, installed specifically for the MOMA’s atrium, Laib gathered pollen from around his studio and home in a small village in southern Germany:

Share-Design_Pollen-From-Hazelnut-by-Wolfgang-Laib-02 01POLLEN_SPAN-articleLargeHis goal with this piece was to inseminate the minds of viewers with thoughts of harmony between human civilization and nature. He has also stated that, “Pollen is the potential beginning of the life of the plant. It is as simple, as beautiful, and as complex as this. And of course it has so many meanings. I think everybody who lives knows that pollen is important” (MoMA). Although Dyck does not use pollen, she too utilizes natural materials in her work.

Aganetha Dyck is a multi-media artist who works collaboratively with bees to create sculptures and drawings made up of honeycomb. Her main concern is the relationship between humans and bees, taking into account the bees’ use of their own senses; “each of her projects is to be affected by the bees’ sight, scent, vibration and movement” (Zimmer). Additionally, her work takes on different hues, textures and formations based on the bees’ pheromones, the kinds of flowers they pollinate, and type of hives they live in. One aspect of her work is adding layers to found objects such as statues and figurines and letting the bees build honeycomb around them:

imagesDyck’s partnership with bees helps viewers understand the importance of the pollinators, while also highlighting the exquisite beauty that happens in nature.

An artist that has a very similar aesthetic approach as me is Sarah Hatton. Hatton, an artist and beekeeper, directly addresses CCD in her work. After having lost an entire colony of her own, she gathered her dead bees and coated their corpses in epoxy resin and then organized them into mathematical patterns found from patterns of nature:



Most of her works are large and reside within a circular frame. And, like myself, Hatton has a deep interest in human nature, morality, patterns, and the natural world, and balances artistry with advocacy.

Because honeybees help to pollinate one third of the human food supply, my final piece for DAAPWorks will reflect a large portion of the specific crops that will disappear if we continue our current farming practices. The piece will be an assemblage of lenticular prints that will be cut into honeycomb shapes and tiled onto a 7’ X 7’ circular wooden panel. One side of the lenticular flip will be a mandala of all of the crops the honeybee helps to pollinate, and the other side will be an image of a farmer in a monoculture field with white cut-outs of honeybees:

Screen shot 2014-03-16 at 10.08.01 PM

While some lenticulars will be transitioning from left to right, others will be transitioning from up to down. This, I hope, will be a subtle yet effective way to make the honeycomb shapes more apparent. The mandala was an important element for me because in Buddhism, mandalas are a tool for establishing a sacred place; the goal of this piece is to connect the viewer to the spirituality behind nature and agriculture, specifically focusing on honeybees and why they are important. The lenticular is important to this piece because it is a material that contradicts the spirituality that I am attempting to reveal. The lenticular requires advanced technology to be produced and reminds viewers of commercial advertising; lenticulars used to appear in cereal boxes as a “prize.” It is necessary for me to have both sides of the spectrum present, as one cannot exist without the other. The lenticular also speaks about lines and movement. The lines on the surface of the material and the movement required by the viewer to see both images reflect the nature of fast-paced mega-farming. While the lenticular forces the viewer to speed up, the mandala asks the viewer to slow down. In addition to the monoculture image present on one side of the lenticular flip, I cut out shapes of honeybees to represent the disappearance of honeybees from our landscape. Merged with the mandala image, the honeybees appear as if they are trying to form themselves into the shape of the mandala. Finally, the mandala image is more in focus than the monoculture image in order to illustrate the importance of the individual crops that the honeybee helps to pollinate.

Although Thomas Jefferson was on the right track when he envisioned “real wealth, good morals, and happiness” as the result of American agriculture, our unsustainable farming practices have steered us in the wrong direction. If we continue on this path, we risk losing our honeybees, and therefore one third of our crops. I strongly believe that if human beings were more connected to their spirituality, they would have a higher appreciation for the earth and therefore make more sustainable decisions about how to obtain food. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar puts it quite simply:

“Spirituality, the experience of one’s own nature deep within, provides the key to this vital relationship with oneself, with others and with our environment. This connection to             our own essential nature eliminates negative emotions, elevates one’s consciousness and creates a spirit of care and commitment for the whole planet” (Walsh).

We need to pay attention to what our environment is telling us, and getting in touch with our spirituality is a good place to start.


 1. Altieri, Miguel A. “Modern Agriculture: Ecological Impacts and the Possibilities for Truly Sustainable Farming.” Modern Agriculture. N.p., 30 July 2000. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <;.

2. “Exhibitions: Wolfgang Laib.” MoMA. Museum of Modern Art, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <;

3. “Imidacloprid Technical Fact Sheet.” NPIC. Oregon State University, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2014. <;.

4. “Industrial Agriculture Practices: Monoculture.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Convio, 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Mar. 2014. <;.

5. Kaminski, John P. “The Quotable Jefferson.” Sample Chapter for Jefferson, T.; Kaminski, J.P., Ed.: The Quotable Jefferson. Princeton University Press, 27 Aug. 2007. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <;.

6. Kniss, Andrew. “The Problem with Monoculture.” Control Freaks. N.p., 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. <;.

7. Muesse, Mark W. “What Does It Mean to Lead a Spiritual Life? : A Buddhist Perspective.” 1996-2006, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <;.

8. Sass, Jennifer. “Why We Need Bees: Nature’s Tiny Workers Put Food on Our Tables.” NRDC, Mar. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <;.

9. Shankar, Sri Sri Ravi. “Our Spiritual Connection to Nature.” The Huffington Post., Inc., 23 July 2010. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <;.

10. “Spirituality.” Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia. N.p., 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <;.

11. Traynor, Joe. “How Far Do Bees Fly? One Mile, Two, Seven? And Why?” Bee Source., June 2002. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <;.

12. Wallingford, Anna K. “Toxicity and Field Efficacy of Four Neonicotinoids on Harlequin Bug (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae).” JSTOR. The Florida Entomologist Society, Vol. 95, No. 4. Dec. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <;

13. Walsh, Bryan. “The Plight of the Honeybee.” Time. Time, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <;.

14. Yamamoto, Izuru. “Nicotine to Nicotinoids: 1962 to 1997.” Nicotinoid Insecticides and the Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

15. Zimmer, Lori. “Gallery: Aganetha Dyck Works With Live Bees To Make Beautiful Art.” N.p., 2 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <;.


The circle is back

This wonderful circular panel was left behind by a graduating friend from last year who didn’t have room to store it.


After starting a painting on it at the beginning of the year, I decided to stop; I had a feeling that I should wait. So, I took it off the wall and began to work on smaller paintings. Then, after a few months of consideration, I realized what the panel would become.

Because I am doing my thesis on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honeybees, I have decided to use this panel as a basis for my final piece:

 Screen shot 2014-03-16 at 10.08.01 PM

This piece will function as a lenticular image (like the piece I used for the Dry Run show) where one side of the image will be a mandala of all of the fruits and vegetables we will lose without honeybees, and the other side of the image will be a farmer in a monoculture field with white cutouts of honeybees. The photo above illustrates what the transition will look like, although both images will look equally as faint/visible in the physical product.

Below was my first idea for one of the images. I decided against it because I didn’t want to be too obvious at first of what it is about. The image of the farmer in the monoculture field (monoculture = one crop in a large area) also works better conceptually, as monocultures have a huge effect on how honeybees forage, not to mention the widespread use of pesticides sprayed onto monocultures.

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In order to bring out the honeycomb effect, I am cutting each lenticular into a hexagon shape. While some lenticulars will be transitioning from left to right, others will be transitioning from up to down. This, I hope will be a subtle yet effective way to get across the idea of the honeycomb.

I finalized the image ideas last night, and saved them all as individual files this morning (each hexagon shape became its own file > 6.7″ X 8″ for both the mandala image and the farmer in the field image).

My next step is to merge the images together using SuperFlip! which is a software program by VueThru. Once my lenticular lenses/photo paper arrive in the mail, I will print all 160 hexagons and mount them to the lenses. Finally, I will mount the lenticulars onto the circular panel.

I’ve got a lot of work to do, but am SO excited to see this all come together in the end.


Ohio Fresh Eggs – E. coli testing

On Sunday, October 13th, I ventured out to Johnstown’s Ohio Fresh Eggs, one of the largest egg factory farms in the country. (PETA did an undercover investigation here last year and discovered some pretty gruesome stuff: My initial goal in visiting Ohio Fresh Eggs was to collect water samples from the runoff streams and test its pH (which I did). I would then use the different colored pH strips to collage with meat receipts to make more factory farm paintings. However, after taking my samples home and doing more research on pH, my priorities changed.

overviewI planned out my trip before I went using Google Maps. I tried to find streams that were as close to the factory farms as possible (example: Site A, B, and C above). I also decided to sample from a source that was a little further away (Site D) in order to explore the changes in water depending on distance.

With my boyfriend by my side for emotional support and an obnoxious “I love Farm Sanctuary” bumper sticker stamped to the back of my car, we drove out to the boonies to see what was up.

Site A (below) was the first set of buildings we arrived at.

Site A
Site A
IMG_0056 copy
Site A
Site A

For each site, I collected two samples: one that strictly had water and another that included water and soil from the bottom of the stream.

Site A

The second set of buildings we went to (Site B) were actually not in use. Regardless, I still wanted to collect samples just to see different results. From this location, I collected samples from a puddle that was connected to a drain and a running stream about ten feet away. I ended up labeling the jars “Site B” and “Site B2.”

Site B
Site B
Site B
Site B (from the puddle)

Because this site was not in use, I decided to take advantage of the amount of exploring I could do. The first thing I did was walk through a corn field that was right next to the stream I sampled from.

Site B

I also drove behind the farm to get closer to the “manure lagoon,” which holds manure (in this case, chicken manure) until it is spread onto surrounding fields as fertilizer.

Site B
Site B (“manure lagoon”)
Site B
Site B (looked like some kind of waste filtering system but not quite sure)

Site C (below) was the largest set of factory farm buildings we went to.

Site C
Site C
Site C (didn’t get close enough to see what he was carrying, but he did wave to us)
Site C

I didn’t get any photos from Site D, but we did go through the gates of Site E to get some photos.

Site D
Site D
Site E
Site E
Site E (piles of feathers and a conveyor belt system working overhead)


Once I had my samples at home, I made my own pH paper strips using red cabbage juice and coffee filters. All tests turned blue (pH of 7.0-8.0), meaning that the water did NOT fall within the Tri-State’s pH standard (6.0). After researching more on pH, however, I realized that testing the water just once doesn’t really provide enough information to prove anything. In order to truly understand the pH of this area, I would have to take samples every month or so for a year and get an average pH. Rather than focusing on this aspect of the chain, I decided to look into other problems of water runoff from factory farms, specifically one of the worst problems, E. coli.

E. coli is a species of bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and other vertebrates (animals with spines). Although the bacteria that naturally exist in your intestines are harmless and helpful in digestion, eating or drinking E. coli that comes from outside, such as in polluted water or meat that has not been processed safely, can cause severe food poisoning or even death.

In factory farming, manure and waste is untreated. It is stored in manure pits or lagoons and then ultimately applied to surrounding farm fields as fertilizer. Because factory farms produce so much waste in one place, it is applied to the land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to incorporate it. As a result, the manure seeps into local streams and groundwater and can end up contaminating drinking water.

On a whim, I decided to order an E. coli testing kit.




After starting my tests, I had to wait 48 hours. The results, I must say, are terrifying:

Site A water

Site A dirt

Site B water

Site B dirt

Site B2 water

Site B2 dirt

Site C water

Site C dirt

Site D water

What these tests say is that there IS a presence of E. coli in the majority of these runoff streams, especially in Site C. It is also evident that the E. coli contamination has spread to a location far away from the actual factory farm buildings (Site D). The samples that contain soil are harder to distinguish but still read as dark blue (presence of E. coli).

At this point, I am taking these results in and figuring out exactly what they mean for local neighborhoods and distant consumers.

Fall Research Statement for Senior Thesis

Because human beings are participating in an industrial food system that values quantity over quality, we are linking together a chain of suffering that is destroying our spiritual connection to nature. Through shopping locally, consumers gain a human experience that strengthens their connections to food and the world around them.

This fall, I will focus on landscape painting through an array of different painting techniques. One technique I have explored thus far is collage. My most recent painting, “Factory Farm,” is a landscape made by collaging my own meat receipts with acrylic medium and paint. By utilizing the receipt, the end result of the industrial process, I wanted to show that, as consumers, we are helping to build these factory farms by buying into the system. I will continue to use the receipt because it is versatile; it can be folded to look like a tile of a roof or torn and layered to look like rough terrain. Collaging receipts into factory farm and agricultural landscapes is a technique I will explore further this fall.

Another technique I will study is that of fluidity and form. Drawing inspiration from artists like Claire Sherman and Brendan Monroe, landscape painters who paint in this fashion, I will learn how to layer blocks of color without blending. This style of painting reflects a Buddhist concept that I have been exploring through other work. The idea is that everything in the universe is in a state of flux; nothing is permanent. Therefore, everything is constantly shifting and decaying. In order to create a fluid effect, I will use oil paint with an impasto medium. I will also focus on using only sedimentary colors, which have larger particles that can be suspended in a medium. As far as subject matter for these paintings, I plan to combine images of farm animals that I photographed at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, a place where rescued factory farmed animals live out their lives in peace, with the shapes of ink found at the end of receipt paper rolls. In the past, I have taken the “shock” approach of showing the cruelty inside factory farms, but realized it tends to back people into a corner. Ultimately, I would like to start a two-way conversation about this sensitive topic rather than making my audience feel guilty.

Other plans I have involve rotting fruits and vegetables onto canvas or paper in the shape of mandalas. In Buddhism, mandalas represent the impermanence of life and futility of attachment. They are traditionally made by groups of Tibetan monks using sand, which upon completion are scattered into a nearby river or lake as a blessing. The process of creating these intricate designs is meant for quieting mind chatter. Although I am not involved in the traditional mandala-making process, my goal is to represent impermanence. After I place the fruits or vegetables onto the desired surface, they will change form and decay over time. Eventually, I scrape the fruit or vegetable off of the surface to reveal a print underneath. Over time, the pigments of the prints will also fade. What I am currently interested in is how organic food rots compared to non-organic, and which type of surfaces work best for these experiments.

The ideal response from my audience would include being drawn into the painting, having an emotional connection to the content without being offended, and then walking away with a desire to educate themselves about contemporary food practices.

Claire Sherman and Brendan Monroe

Two artists that I have been obsessed with lately are Claire Sherman and Brendan Monroe. Both painters intrigue me in their fluid approach to landscape.

Sherman is interested in the sublime, and draws inspiration from the writings of Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Francois Lyotard, which discussed the sublime and the beauty of the natural world. Her main body of work consists of landscapes painted with oil on canvas. “Boulders” and “Swamp II” are two of my favorites:

“Boulders” | Claire Sherman
“Swamp II” | Claire Sherman

Sherman’s work has directly influenced my most recent painting, which is a landscape based off of a picture I took at Farm Sanctuary this summer (will post documentation soon!). Farm Sanctuary is a place where rescued factory farm animals live out their lives in peace. During a meeting with one of my professors today, we discussed which mediums (to mix with oil paint) would best create an effect similar to that of Sherman’s. I am going to look into some sort of an Impasto medium for oil paint. My professor also pointed out that Sherman most likely uses sedimentary colors, which are colors that have larger particles which can become suspended in a medium. Some of these colors include Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Gold Ochre, Indian Red, Venetian Red, Asphaltum, Van Dyke Brown, Transparent Earth Orange, Transparent Earth Red, and Transparent Earth Yellow.

Brendan Monroe is an artist that I have only recently discovered. On his website, he explains, “My interpretations of the world are mostly rooted in science then executed through painting and sculpting. These are the best ways for me to communicate, but I always enjoy making other things as well.” In other sources, I’ve read that he deals with consciousness. His paintings are insanely beautiful and I cannot wait to study more of his work.

Brendan Monroe
“Stuck” | Brendan Monroe
brendan monroe 2
“Divide” | Brendan Monroe

Wolfgang Laib

Viewing Wolgang Laib’s piece, “Pollen from Hazelnut” from above. MOMA. March 8, 2013

While visiting New York City with my fine art class this past weekend, I got the opportunity to see Wolfgang Laib’s piece, “Pollen from Hazelnut” at the MOMA. Although my work is nothing like his in appearance, we share interests in the natural and spiritual:

“Informed by the purity and simplicity of Eastern philosophies, he employs natural materials, most notably milk, pollen, beeswax, rice and marble. His works are more complex than being just about nature and the natural world. They involve ritual, repetition, process, and a demand for contemplation.”

Learn more about his process:

How to make a sand mandala

A mandala, Sanskrit for “circle,” is a sacred, symbolic diagram, used as a meditational aid in Buddhism and Hinduism. A sand mandala is an ancient ritual art in Tibet. Of all the traditional Tibetan tantric practices, the art of painting with colored sand is one of the most unique and exquisite. In Tibetan language, this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means “mandala of colored powders.”

Because mandalas are supposed to represent the impermanence of life and futility of attachment, sand mandalas are traditionally swept up after completion and scattered into a nearby river or lake as a blessing; many people find this to be the most moving part of the ritual. The process of creating sand mandalas can take many hours of hard work. However, the experience is therapeutic and provides an opportunity your mind chatter to stop. Although sand mandalas are traditionally made by groups of monks in Tibet, the solo experience is just as rewarding.


How to create a sand mandala:


-A sturdy, flat board and surface to work on

-Colored Sand: can purchase at most craft stores

-Small funnel to direct the sand: can purchase at most craft stores OR can take apart an ink pen and use the outer shell. (Monks use a cone-shaped metal funnel called a chak-pur)


1. Lay a square board (of any size) onto a flat, large, stable surface. You will be working from above. Also make sure that the area you are working is free of potential breezes.

2. Find a design or create your own to be reproduced in sand. You can find examples of Tibetan mandalas in art books or websites.

3. Carefully draw your design on the board.

4. Scoop out the color of sand you wish to use for the background of your design with your funnel.

5. Lay down the sand where you wish that color to go, by gently tapping the side of the funnel to cause the sand to flow precisely onto the board.

6. Continue to lay down the design, one color at a time. It is best to complete the center of the mandala and work outwards. Continue until all the elements of the mandala are complete.

7. Begin removal of the mandala when you are ready. Following tradition, destroy the deities and symbols by pinching the sand in a particular order. Then draw lines from the four directions into the center with your fingers.

8. Sweep the sand into a container with a brush or hand broom. Continue until the surface is clean.

9. Return the sand to nature. Traditionally, the sand is poured into a river or lake. The materials are never used a second time.

Namgyal monks completing a sand mandala