A hornet’s nest is composed of paper made from saliva and wood pulp. The outside of the hornet’s nest is a paper envelope, protecting and shielding the colonies’ combs vested inside.
A hornet’s nest is also a metaphor used to describe an unsettling situation in which many are affected. The metaphor relies on the implied act of shaking a hornet’s nest, in which the colony of up to 700 hornets living inside may swarm outwardly and surround the nest-shaker, causing dismay and likely many stings. Perhaps relevant, a hornet may sting as many times as he’d like, as his stinger does not contain the same harikari barbs as the honey bee’s, a dangerous balance by which the honey bee may sting, but must also lose his life.
Steven and William Ladd’s Webelos (2015, shredded paper, glue, wheat starch, metal beads, metal trinkets, glass beads, crystal beads, pins, screws, dye, mesh, staples, wood) is a hornet’s nest of both registers.
The ground is primarily shredded paper in a brownish-goldish color, pocked with thread-bare areas revealing mesh screen beneath. The mesh is orderly and tight beneath the clumpy shrouding of shredded paper, a perfect geometry like honeycomb. I imagine the shredded and crumpled bits of paper adhering to the surface with a glue chemically analogous to the saliva and wood pulp mixture of the hornet’s nest.
Built up from the surface, tight clusters of meticulously categorized gold and brass beads encrust small circular openings in irregular clusters. These bedecked orifices give way sometimes to mesh backing, sometimes through to nothingness. I envision swarms landing upon the surface of Webelos, fighting for entry to the mesh colony in wait behind these entry points.
Trypophobia is a freshly coined term for a fear or unease linked to clusters of irregularly placed holes (think Lotus pods). Trypophobia’s symptoms can be severe, inciting anxiety, or can be as relatively trivial as the feeling of skin crawling. The closer I zoom in on a high resolution image of Webelos, despite all its glittered golden gorgeousness, the more I notice the hairs on my arms raise and my skin tingle and tighten uneasily. Its luxe surfaces are clustered, irregular, like a demented honeycomb– the soothing, perfect geometry melted and warped.
And then there’s the other kind of hornet’s nest. The work’s title, Webelos, references “a Cub Scout section for older participants”, its color “the glimmering gold of the Scout badge for that division” according to a statement from the artists.
Innocuous, no? An older Cub Scout division for whom badges are golden. Its a surface statement, somewhat hollow. Webelos is somewhere between portmanteau and acronym for “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts”. The obedience and collegiality of the sentiment seems almost too obvious an analogy to colonies of hornets or worker bees, building and protecting the hives of the queen.
We’ll be loyal scouts.
Prior to 1994, 2,000 instances of sexual abuse were reported within the Boy Scouts of America organization. As Chief Scout Executive J.L. Tarr (a murky, sticky sort to be sure, but what’s in a name?) responded without affect after allegations in 1988: “That’s been an issue since the Boy Scouts began”. 
Fortunately, the numbers of sexual abuse accounts in the BSA have nearly zeroed out in recent years. But how can a work titled Webelos operate without evoking this shared cultural trauma in our recent past? Without erasing or replacing this traumatic memory, can we view this work in a light less shot through, less like a hornet’s nest?
The artists, Steven and William Ladd, are brothers. They grew up together in a community outside of St. Louis with two other siblings in a “supportive Catholic family.” Their work often references their shared memories of childhood and family relationships. Though the two seem to be profoundly upbeat, positive dudes (William traveled the world as a fashion model– they’re both handsome, brilliant, engaged in community, artistic) I can’t seem to get past the melancholic overtones of Webelos. There is a duality that wrests itself throughout their biography and artist statement.
Two sentences lifted from their artists’ statement highlights the struggle: “we tease and laugh and talk as we work, shaping the development of each piece over time. The physical process is painstaking and unpredictable.”
The first sentence is light, airy, you can imagine the positive energy emanating from two people, so close, sharing and molding their creative vision. The second sentence, a rebuttal, deliberately stark, maps the conflicts that arise from working with someone you love. Love, family, memory, home, time… all of these can be “painstaking and unpredictable.”
Later in the artist statement, the brothers address the material explorations in their work: “seemingly soft surfaces may disguise jagged pins and dangers we call ‘infections’ or ‘wounds.’ It is all part of our world.”
Infections, wounds, painstaking labor (and elsewhere in their oeuvre appear infestations) dressed up in gleaming gold beads. Is this how we access our memory? As a wound, a hollow, surrounded by but isolated from detail and decoration?
I realize that the swarm is shaken and angry. The hornet’s nest has been riled. The Ladd brothers are profound makers, and this is but one example of their diligent labors exploring variant materials and styles of making. The part should not be taken for the whole, however redolent. But Webelos and its relationship to memory, to trauma, to the collaborative and collective living spaces of bees is stuck in the slow-like-honey spaces of my memory. It takes on, collects, distills some minor and major traumas.
 Patrick, Boyle (1991). “Scouts Honor”. The Washington Times.
 Biography of the artists as mentioned on their website, stevenandwilliam.com
 Steven and William Ladd, Artist Statement http://www.stevenandwilliam.com/artist-statement/
 One series from the Ladd brothers sprang from a memory of an ant infestation pouring out of a plastic LEGO container. One piece is a plastic LEGO container filled with paper ants, another series features large hand-blown glass ants anthropomorphized with names like “Billy”, “Barbie”, “Mom”, “Dad”, “Matt”, “Stevie” (all names of the Ladd siblings and ostensibly their parents.)