The Skep: The Symbol of the Artisan

vintage beehive victorian

When we started Lost Art Press, we kicked around several ideas for what should be the symbol of our small company. We toyed with a saw and then a plane, and we eventually settled on using Joseph Moxon’s compass.

The dark horse candidate was to use a skep, a woven, basket-like beehive. The beehive has long been the symbol of the industrious, and I love its shape and the parallels between the world of the bee and artisans.

But few people (aside from Mormons, Freemasons and the history-obsessed) associate the skep with building things. I’d like to change that and have been working on a T-shirt design that marries the skep with the tools of the joiner.

J&C_cover

To prove that I’m not nuts, take a look at some of these images. The cover of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” a Victorian reprint of an 1830s volume, features a skep at front and center in the cover design.

tn_Certificate-New-York-Mechanick-Society-exhibit-label

Or check out this 18th-century certificate from the New York Mechanick Society. Yes, we all see the hammer and the butch muscles. But check out the little bird just to the left of the hammer.

NYMS_detail

Yup. It’s a babe with a skep. (Note: Lost Art Press does not endorse walking around while carrying a beehive and a shovel. There are easier ways to get someone to buy you a drink.)

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to The Skep: The Symbol of the Artisan

  1. I love bees, I think they’re one of the most amazing creatures. Sure I run around like a little girl when I hear them buzzing around, but I would be interested in said t-shirt. (On an unrelated note, when I authenticate with twitter for wordpress, I got a security warning on this site, wondering if it’s because it doesn’t have SSL/https enabled on the blog?)

  2. knewconcepts says:

    Go for it! Bees are the most wonderful creatures on the earth!
    I feel that every world leader should keep bees, as they teach how to work with others, and if handled properly, will not hurt you.
    I was taught using the “naked” method (meaning without all of the protective gear, just normal clothes), and if you can handle them without crushing several, the hive will accept the occasional scent of a damaged bee without reacting.
    The hive is a symbol of interacting with others without causing harm.

    Lee (the saw guy)

  3. wittefish says:

    If you come.e up with a shirt featuring someone carrying two skeps, say chest high or so, I’ll buy two.

  4. pfollansbee says:

    that’s all well & good, but it’s brutal trying to layout a carving pattern using a beehive.

  5. Ben Griswold says:

    Chris, I found your closing comment hilarious by the way.

  6. fitz says:

    Well that explains it. I’ll leave my shovel and skep at home next time I go barhopping.

  7. Hank Cohen says:

    Skep’s may be a romantic symbol of industry but they were not a particularly kind or efficient way to keep bees. Harvesting honey from a skep required the destruction of the hive. A “modern” (c. 1800) hive with removable frames is much kinder to the bees and allows for larger and more productive hives.

  8. The odd fellows use this symbol too. I have the symbol on a big patch I put on my apron but I didn’t know what it meant, now that I do its even cooler.

  9. fachento says:

    Oddly enough it is no longer legal (at least in the state of Virginia) to keep bees in a skep — inspecting a beehive in a skep becomes all but impossible without utterly destroying it, hence the preference for the ‘Langstroth’ (most common), and the ‘Top Bar’ hive.

    As a Mormon, I appreciate the shout-out (Thanks Chris!) — the parallels between the work of bees, and woodworking are indeed many. For every milliliter of honey, 12-15 bees gave their life (their *entire* life) to produce it. The bottom most box in a Langstroth hive can start out the season weighing as little as 20 lbs, but by the end of the season, may weigh as much as 90 lbs – laden with honey, nectar, pollen, and brood. Amazing.

    Also of interest — bees also go through a sort of ‘apprenticeship’ in the hive — progressing from task to task, until at nearly the end of their lives, they are entrusted with foraging for the materials to make and finish honey — upon which the rest of the colony will depend to live through the winter.

    Bees are oddly picking about the spacing of the frames/comb within their ‘bee space’ as well — the frames/comb have to be 1/4inch to 3/8 apart — if they aren’t, the bee’s will ‘fix’ that using ‘bee glue’. I haven’t figured out how they ‘know’ — because I haven’t seen any of the workers running around with a ruler or gauge.

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