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Published: 25 August 2018

By Andy Ross

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The Pollen Loads of the Honey Bee

Ideas come from the most unexpected places...

I collect books. Many, many books. Of all types, sizes, ages and descriptions, and of all persuasions. Natural history forms the majority of my collection, along with music, textiles, culture, art... as any of you who have been in the studio will know. And I buy them for lots of reasons; my own interests, of course, but also for design ideas, colour inspiration and, sometimes, because of the way in which they are written which captures the imagination or tickles the funny bone. 

A few years ago, on a chance exploration of the interways of the interweb, a small volume caught the eye. Beautifully printed in 1952, this book distils the essence of rigorous academic research and art, bringing them together in a clear, concise, fascinating and utterly unique way; a study into "The Pollen Loads of the Honey Bee."

Published by the Bee Research Association, (does anyone out there in readerland know if this is now "The International Bee Research Association"?) the book was written by Dorothy Hodges, an artist and bee-keeper, whose specialised interest led to the idea of "making a colour chart of pollen loads". (Quote taken from the Preface written by the author in February 1952).  What a wonderfully simple idea that was! 

This volume was published in 1974, the second time the book was reprinted, but my book includes some extra items;  drawings and research unpublished in the first two. It was, however, for the pollen colours that I bought this book. Small oblongs of plain colour, illustrating the different hues that pollen shows, even when that pollen comes from the same flowers. The charts are, to put it mildly, stunning. And it seems I am not the only one to think so. The book has captured the interest of artists (see this link and follow the page to the bottom to see what I mean) and new generations of bee-keepers.  In fact, the book is so useful that the drawings have been published again, this time by themselves. They convey their information so accurately that there is no need for any language to explain them.

Why did I buy it? Well, in designing cloths, I spend a lot of time thinking about colour and how to achieve the right blend of shade and hue. "The Pollen Loads of the Honey Bee" will help to get the results I want, and will also help me to see how colours work together harmoniously. It has already given me ideas about colour combinations, plus, as a bonus, it is a beautiful book and surely no-one can ask for any more than that? I can see that this book is going to be a Very Useful and Exciting addition to the library.