This post is only partly about beekeeping, but it does start out with beekeeping or, at least, honey. I recently received an invitation from my friends Ed and Elaine Holcombe to judge honey at their local county fair in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Ed is known for his beekeeping and queen rearing skills. He has worked with beekeepers in Croatia and Belarus as part of the USAID program and, in recent years, has been teaching beekeeping classes at Middle Tennessee State University. For the last several years, beekeepers in eastern Kentucky have benefited from his talks on maximizing honey production, which he has given at the Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School in Hazard. Elaine is known for her skill in making candles and art objects from beeswax, as well as for sharing her interest and know-how with others. She has also taught classes at the Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School. Ed’s and Elaine’s willingness to travel all the way to Hazard to help our beekeepers was a major factor in my deciding to accept their invitation to judge honey in Tennessee.
So last week my wife, Lee, and I headed to Tennessee for the Bedford County Fair and a visit with Ed and Elaine. Little did we know that the highlight of the trip was to have little to do with honey or beekeeping. The honey judging went smoothly, but it took a while. I was very impressed by the quality of the entries; they were so good it made the judging difficult. It is tough to pick out the top three entries in a class when half a dozen of them are nearly perfect. It also took a while due to the number of the entries. There were close to 40 extracted honey entries! I had foolishly predicted, before I saw the entry list, that I could complete the judging by noon. Ed had invited us for lunch and I noticed that, as noon approached, he was making a series of phone calls to local beekeepers. We learned that Ed, with the collaboration of fellow beekeeper Randy McCurdy, had arranged, not only lunch, but an afternoon excursion for Lee and me. Sometime after 1:30pm, when the judging was finally completed, we headed to nearby Bell Buckle, Tennessee for lunch and other adventures. Bell Buckle is known for its restored buildings, arts community, and an annual “RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival“. There we met some of the Bedford County beekeeping group for lunch at the Bell Buckle Cafe , a local institution famous for its down home country cooking, including an unlikely sounding, but perfectly delicious, grits cake desert.
While the lunch was wonderful, the best was yet to come. Over the years, Bell Buckle has attracted a number of artists and craftsmen who live and work in the area, and it turns out that our co-host, Randy, is one of them. Randy invited us to see his stained glass art studio, but first we were scheduled to visit one of the community’s best known artists, sculptor Russ Faxon. Russ, though a 30 year resident of Bell Buckle, is a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky and a graduate of Western Kentucky University. His studio, just off the main street in Bell Buckle, is where he produces award winning cast bronze sculptures. There, we had the rare opportunity of seeing a number of studies and works in progress while Russ described the process of casting bronze sculptures using the “lost wax” method. We were also able to see his most recently completed, but yet to be unveiled, piece, which was in his studio waiting to be delivered. Because it was commissioned as a “surprise” gift, we were sworn to secrecy concerning its subject. (It was a bust of the recipients, whom several of the other beekeepers recognized.) A number of his other completed sculptures were on display in a gallery at the front of the studio. You can see photos of these and more at Russ’s webpage.
After leaving Russ’s, we headed for Randy’s farm where he lives, gardens, keeps bees, and has his stained glass studio. Randy was a commercial gardener when he began doing stained glass. He has incorporated the two interests by sealing designs made of pressed, dried flowers, all grown in his own garden, between sheets of stained glass. The result is beautiful and unique. He sells his work at art festivals throughout the region; in fact, when we visited him, he had just returned from the 2012 Berea Craft Festival which he attends every year. While Lee and I know that Russ’s artwork is out of our price range, Randy’s is not (glass and flowers are much less expensive than bronze) and perhaps fits better into our country home decor, so on a future visit we plan to make several purchases. And return we will. We so very much enjoyed our day, I offered to come back and give a talk at the local Duck River (beekeepers) Association meeting in the fall and visit again with Ed, Elaine, Randy and the other local beekeepers. And have lunch at the Bell Buckle Cafe, of course!