Artist Matthew Willey will paint a bee-themed mural on the side of Pepino's Restaurant in downtown Bangor this July. Here, Willey is pictured outside the mural he painted at the National Zoo at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Credit: Courtesy of Bangor Beautiful

Bangor Beautiful, a nonprofit that aims to enhance the city with new gardens and public art, is abuzz with the announcement of its first major project, coming just a few weeks after its board of directors publicly debuted the organization.

Starting in July, New York-based muralist Matthew Willey will spend approximately a month painting a bee-themed mural on the side of the building at 47 Park St., which houses Pepino’s Mexican Restaurant and is owned by local property developers John and Laurie Karnes.

The mural is part of Willey’s long-running project, The Good of the Hive, a 20-year effort to paint 50,000 honeybees — the average number of bees in a healthy hive — in murals across the nation and the world. Willey said on his website that his goal for the project is to spur conversations and action around conservation, nature and the interconnectedness of all things.

His mural in Bangor will be the first one in Maine and the second in New England, after he painted a mural in 2018 in New Hampshire. He’s painted hive murals at the National Zoo at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and at the Burt’s Bees corporate headquarters in North Carolina.

Annette Dodd, Bangor Beautiful board chair, said that she first heard about Willey’s work from artist Peter Walls, Dodd’s collaborator on the Kenduskeag Stream mural project in summer 2022. Walls went to school with Willey, and had effusive things to say about Willey’s Good of the Hive project.

“I knew we wanted to do something really big for 2023 for a mural, and this project just seemed like such an incredible thing for Bangor to be a part of,” Dodd said. “We wanted to bring in someone who is a true professional and who we can learn from, and Matt is the perfect guy to do that.”

Artist Matthew Willey will paint a bee-themed mural on the side of Pepino’s Restaurant in downtown Bangor this July.

Willey has painted 22 murals so far, in 10 states and in Washington, D.C., as well as in the United Kingdom and China. He painted his first mural in 2015, on the side of the Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. in LaBelle, Florida, which inspired the project as a whole.

During his mural projects, Willey typically spends around a month painting and engaging in community projects, including workshops with local youth and giving talks and presentations.  

“Part of the mission is to engage the community during the painting process,” Dodd said. “There will also be a documentary crew coming to film alongside him as part of a film they’re making about the Good of the Hive, so there’ll be a busy month of activities.”

The project is still only partially funded, Dodd said, and they need to raise another $22,000 to complete it. The group hopes to raise the additional money from businesses, organizations and individual people over the next few months. They are also seeking in-kind donations, including the use of an aerial lift platform or bucket truck so that Willey can reach the top part of the three-story building at 49 Park S

Dodd has painted three other murals in downtown Bangor, including the Welcome to Bangor sign on Union Street, the Paul Bunyan mural on Central Street and the Kenduskeag Stream mural on Franklin Street.

Bangor Beautiful was formed by Dodd, Kat Johnson, Greg Edwards and Susan Bryand, with the goal of raising funds and marshaling resources to create new murals, plant trees and gardens and help supply volunteers to maintain Bangor’s many miles of public trails.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.