Fluctuating between her backyard and her garage studio, Suzy Bryer breathes new life into recycled or second-hand materials she finds from op shops and country stalls and turns them into bird and insect baths, and mosaic treasures.
But Bryer’s creations are more than just gorgeous works of art. Her mosaics help contribute to the survival of bee populations in her area.
Our native bee populations in Australia are drastically declining, with 11 species identified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature following the bushfires between 2019 and 2020.
Due to their specialised shapes and behaviours, native bees are important pollinators of our unique wildflowers and native plants. They also have significant value for Australian agriculture, alongside the introduced European honeybee.
Now that the parasitic varroa mite has been detected in Australia last month, our honeybees are also at risk of endangerment.
However, this problem doesn’t just end on our shores. Bee species worldwide are being threatened from habitat destruction, climate change, diseases, and pesticide use. This will have a disastrous impact on our environment and agriculture, as they are a keystone species responsible for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem health.
Bird and bee baths are vital sources of water for hives, but Bryer said some of the garden ornaments are treated with toxic chemicals and a small concentration of pesticides and insecticides which can be fatal.
“A lot of people are purchasing these baths without knowing that they can make our birds and insects really sick. Some may even create their own without sealing them properly or even getting educated on the process,” she said.
During the crafting process, Bryer uses a non-toxic, food-safe sealant to prevent paint and terracotta from leaching into the water. Bees require water for hydration and digestion, to create royal jelly to feed their larvae, and to dissolve crystallised honey.
To prevent the bees from drowning, Bryer’s insect baths feature tall objects for them to rest on and dry off their wings before they fly back to the hive.
“It’s educational for people, because a lot of purchasers or tourists just looking at the art will ask why there’s stairs in the bee baths. And that’s significantly important,” Bryer said.
“Because what happens is the bees get into the water, the wings get wet, and they’re heavy so they can’t get out. So, the bees have to be able to swim over to an object and crawl up onto it. They then have to wait for their wings to dry so they can fly away. It’s not just to have a drink, the water actually helps to make honey.”
Redcliffe beekeeper Lynn Roberts revealed that pesticides, including those sprayed on bee baths, can have a “horrifying” effect on beehives.
“We all get hit by somebody who has been irresponsible and sprayed a pesticide near our beehives. And you come back a week later to service your bees and you’ve got a dead straight kill,” Roberts said.
“You might have 50,000 dead bees lying outside your carpet on the ground just right out in front of the entrance. Because they bring home that thinking it’s mixed from the plants or the flowers and poison the whole hive.
“They’re like little pets, you have to take care of them,” she added.
Bryer’s mosaic artworks are also driven by her aim to reduce her own carbon footprint. She includes thoughtful upcycling methods into her creations, such as incorporating ceramic pieces and random items she finds in thrift stores and op-shops to help eliminate pollution.
“It’s a throwaway society, isn’t it? It’s really scary,” Bryer said.
“I think getting educated on what I’m doing is a creative, outside-the-box kind of way of what people can do at least.”
Growing up on dairy farm with her parents, Bryer said she has always felt connected to nature. Despite having the unfortunate job of shovelling cowpats from the paddock, she carefully tended to the Hereford and Guernsey cows, and often found herself naming butterflies and running around outside with a bug catcher.
Bryer has been creating her recycled mosaics for 30 years, as a way of paying homage to her childhood and love of nature.
“My cow bird bath was inspired by the great big vegetable gardens and pumpkin vines and the beautiful cows on our dairy farm,” she said.
Showing off her creations that feature in Cleveland’s Old Schoolhouse Gallery, Bryer enthusiastically dived into the inspiration behind her work.
“I’ll just start playing with some design and kind of work it out. Sometimes I’ll look and design from nature, like the bees and flowers. I’ve got a bit of a veggie patch as well, and some sunflowers at the moment,” she said, waving her hands around excitedly.
“I might go and have a look at how the plants are sitting, or you know, think of whimsical things in my head.”
Bryer sources most of her tiles and feature items from Bunnings and local op shops. But her artworks also boast ceramic pieces that were handmade at Monte Lupo, the fine art studio in Eight Mile Plains which employs artists of all abilities.
Bryer’s son, Myles Barabas, who acquired a brain injury from his previous job as an electrician, currently works at Monte Lupo and finds the art very therapeutic.
“He’s a ceramic artist there now, which is interesting coming from a world of being an electrician to now being able to do this artwork. And it’s fantastic that he’s giving back to the community as well,” Bryer said.
Bryer encourages locals to start crafting their own mosaic ornaments, and to make sure they are purchasing non-toxic bird and insect baths.