Libba Tracy, Black Mountain bee keeper

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

There’s an old saying that the artist enables us to see more clearly. Libba Tracy takes it a step farther by generating meaningful experiences, as well.

You can see the results of her work at Black Mountain Center for the Arts from Sept. 10-Oct. 9. The exhibit she organized, “What’s the Buzz about Bees?” is similar to the arts and community project “Bring Back the Monarchs” she did this time last year.

In that show at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, her watercolor “The Ones That Are Missing” captured a brightly-hued Monarch in a sunlit corner about to slip into the ghostly stream of kindred spirits. Working with the sign painter Mary Soyenova, the watercolor was then transformed into a mural gracing the exterior of the center, joined by a banner urging passersby to support and rejuvenate the dwindling numbers of Monarchs by planting milkweed.

And that was only the beginning. If you log onto Rebecca Williams’ documentary on YouTube, you can catch Tracy in action. You can also understand the full scope of her undertaking: an event designed to illustrate the loss of the once-vibrant flyway over Black Mountain that Monarchs filled on their way to Mexico, an event many townspeople remember.

In the video, you can glimpse some 250 children from three different schools, gathering at the town square, trying out their paper wings (white for the 90 percent we’ve lost, colored for those remaining), and releasing the butterflies they’d nurtured from their inception. Next, you see them brandishing their wings as they paraded by the shops on State Street and crossed over into the center for a program on the life cycle of this endangered species. Later on, you watch them receive seed packets to replenish the habitats.

Mayor Mike Sobol later told Tracy how excited he was by the event and video because he’d been working for 20 years to create greenways, or corridors, that would allow users to walk, bike and hike throughout Black Mountain to Montreat.And, sure enough, soon after the event took place, a grassroots effort to plant milkweed along the greenways took off.

Of course, there’s a back story to all this. As a child, Tracy spent summers in Montreat where her folks had a cottage. Moreover, as she is fond of saying, she comes from a family of artists.

“My grandmother was an artist. My dad picked up painting when he was about 50,” she said. “He was prolific, and his curiosity knew no bounds. As a teenager, I was in the presence of someone who was passionately learning and I learned through osmosis.”

Going on to become a successful commercial illustrator (running the gamut from advertising to children’s books), she found herself reaching a turning point some 18 years ago in Phoenix.

“My husband Tom was getting a master’s in children’s theater and language arts,” said Tracy. “We’d done inner city. It was time to raise kids and try a small town.”

The obvious choice was a return to her fond memories of this valley. Tom found a position as a teacher and the musical director at The Learning Community School.

“You don’t get any sweeter than right here,” said Libba Tracy. “Black Mountain is a gift in so many ways. It’s Camelot. It’s a place where you can be in the town parade, take part in Holly Jolly, and virtually sit beneath the cascading fireworks. I am all about visual. There are the mountains on the periphery of our property. Anything of beauty, anything that exists feeds me and is vibrating all the time.”

From here we can return to her serious concern for the health of the planet and her next project. Deeply troubled over the huge decline of the honey bee and the degradation of its habitat, she is looking for ways to help this crucial pollinator recover.

Her new project will include four schools and happen over a month’s time. There will a theme-based art show at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts. From Sept. 14-18, children from each school will be swarming, blowing kazoos, brandishing colorful bee renderings on their hands and buzzing to the arts center.

There they’ll engage in a program and see the artwork. To raise awareness, Tracy is creating “swarm” decals for store windows. She was inspired by Asheville, the inaugural “Bee City USA” which holds various bee-related events each June.

Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic profile of people who are drawn to the Swannanoa Valley.

See our coverage of “What’s the Buzz about Bees?” on Page B2.