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How this LaBelle bee mural was the start of a global art project

Posted at 7:51 PM, Nov 28, 2023

LABELLE, Fla. — If you’ve driven through downtown LaBelle, the massive bee mural on Bridge Street has likely caught your eye.

For more than 70 years, the Harold P. Curtis Honey Company has been a hive of activity, producing fresh honey and keeping bees in LaBelle. The vibrant bee mural on their building has sparked curiosity and drawn attention to the store.

Owner, Rene Curtis Pratt, shared how the mural came to be. She said eight years ago she took a call from a man named Mr. Willey. He organized a non-profit called ‘Pan-Florida Challenge’ that aims to prevent cancer by raising money to feed hungry children in Haiti and central Florida - by pedaling.

“They bicycle from Naples to West Palm, and they come through LaBelle and needed a place to stop. He said his son Matt does murals and would love for his son to do a mural on the building,” Pratt explained.

Matt Willey, the artist behind the mural, spoke about murals origin, saying, “I figured this is something I could offer, and nothing came along until 2014 until my friend sent me an iPhone video of the side of this honey company - this giant blank wall in LaBelle, Florida.”

Willey flew in from North Carolina to paint the mural, a ten-week project that allowed him to cultivate a real connection with LaBelle. “That is a really beautiful community. Getting the little kid who comes up to me and pulls his shirt up to show me where he’s gotten stung - proudly - like it was a badge of honor. And we were connecting,” reflected Willey.

Willey said those connections form the core message for an estimated 21-year mural installation series called, ‘The Good of the Hive’, with this mural in LaBelle being the very first one. The murals highlight the interconnectedness of human and planetary health, symbolized by bees.

“When I do a mural, I’m trying to ignite curiosity within that community. The beauty of the bee is that I can paint them, I can put them in people’s mind, and then they’ll go out in the world and see a bee and hopefully make a connection that, ‘Oh, right, remember to be connected today,’” said Willey.

Willey has since painted over 10,000 bees globally, with projects in renowned locations like the Smithsonian National Zoo and the American Embassy in Beijing. His goal is to hand-paint 50,000 bees, representing the number in a healthy hive.

“I’m one bee in a whole bunch of pollinators - human pollinators - telling this story of how critical our behavior around bees and pollinators is right now,” Willey emphasized.

Renee Curtis Pratt said she appreciates the impact the mural has had on raising awareness in LaBelle. "People come in asking, 'What can I do?' or wanting to buy a hive of bees,” she said.

As the bee mural continues to create a buzz in LaBelle, it serves as a reminder of the important role these pollinators play in our ecosystem.