Burt’s bliss


Dear Artist,

Until recently, a retired beekeeper named Burt Shavitz was living in a 400-square-foot converted turkey coop in Parkman, Maine. He had a refrigerator, a radio, cold running water, a wood stove, and the wag of his Golden Retriever’s tail. He called his home “Camp,” having built onto it 40 years earlier with scrap lumber and windows he’d found at the dump. When asked once if he needed the Internet, he replied, “Like a hole in the head.”


Burt Shavitz (May 15, 1935 – July 5, 2015)
Robert F. Bukaty photo (AP)

Burt was born Ingram Berg Shavitz on Manhattan, May 15, 1935, the son of an actor and a sculptor. He grew up in Great Neck, Long Island and was expected to join his grandfather’s graphic design business. Instead, he went to college in Delaware and, after being drafted and serving in the army in Germany, moved into a $30-a-month walk-up in New York City. He freelanced as a photographer before earning a press pass from Time/Life. “I could go anywhere I wanted with that pass,” he said, and covered John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and the civil rights movement and the first Earth Day in 1970.

Burt would see his elderly neighbour sitting at her window most of the time and never going out. “That could be me if I don’t get out of here.” he said. And so Burt packed up his Volkswagon van and drove to the country, where he got a job as a caretaker and learned beekeeping.

One day after a rainstorm, Burt saw a fence post clumped with honeybees and took it as a sign. He began with one hive, and expanded to twenty-six. “You don’t have to destroy anything to get honey. You can just use the same things over and over again, put it in a quart canning jar, and you’ve got $12.” Burt’s hives were stolen once, and so he stole them back. After that he stencilled his name on his boxes: “Burt’s Bees.”


“I have no desire to be an upward mobile rising yuppie.”
(Jody Shapiro photo)

“I’ve got 40 acres, and it’s good and sufficient and it takes good care of me,” said Burt. “There’s no noise. There’s no children screaming. There’s no people getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and trying to start their car and raising hell. Everybody has their own idea of what a good place to be is, and this is mine.”



PS: “A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere.” (Burt Shavitz)


“I’ve been extremely fortunate for an entire lifetime — as long as I wasn’t in urban America.”
Burt Shavitz photo (1960s)

Esoterica: In 1984, Burt was driving his yellow Datsun pickup when he spotted 33-year-old waitress and single mother of twins, Roxanne Quimby, hitchhiking from her lake cabin to the local post office. Burt suggested she recycle his leftover beeswax into candles, and gave her a 19th-century farmer’s journal where she learned to combine the wax with sweet almond oil to make lip balm. At the craft fair, Roxanne asked their booth neighbour and local engraver Tony Kulik to make a logo using Burt’s scruffy face. Roxanne and Burt had been chugging along for about a decade when they decided to move to North Carolina to take advantage of tax breaks and a bigger labour pool. But Burt missed Maine and didn’t like being in the trenches. With their relationship in a nosedive, Roxanne offered Burt $130,000 for his stake, and Burt went home to “Camp.” Eight years later, Burt’s Bees was sold to Clorox for $970 million. Burt Shavitz passed away at home in Maine on July 5, 2015. Click here to see the trailer for Jody Shapiro’s 2014 documentary about Burt Shavitz.



    • Roger Pelizzari on

      Yes, sold to Clorox and their products have taken a nosedive in purity.
      Selling out to corporations for big money is always a big disaster for the integrity of the products.

      Many small organic companies have experience this.

  1. Bees are great… I kept bees until around 2005 when I just couldn’t seem to keep them alive through the winter anymore. It was sad. The birds and the bees make for good art.

  2. This is really an old story. Someone starts a company for love and something to do, then the company is bought and becomes worth a heck of a lot more. But it seems Burt got what he wanted. A good tale for an old painter to read.

  3. Carol mariott on

    There are days that my canvas has nothing to say when I meet her in the studio. Then there are times when she screams early in the morning for me to give her breath. It is moments like these that my canvas talks insanely and we spend the day together exploring our souls and sharing our mistakes.

  4. I too, have forty acres and all the quiet and solitude that Burt loved. I saw the documentary last year and immediately identified with Burt’s motto about “A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere …” That’s my idea of a good day too!

  5. Great story and good products, even if Clorox is the parent company.. Not having to go somewhere is especially good for a Canadian winter. I moved back to the country to a small town where there’s just enough noise and activity to keep life interesting . The flow of ideas for Art hasn’t diminished one iota. So, as Burt says, I’m living my idea of a good life, for which I am most grateful.

  6. “A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere.” (Burt Shavitz) it’s funny but I was very surprised to see this quote as it could apply to me as well. It could be my motto too but have I never voiced it as it seemed like it could be viewed as anti social, this usually is interpreted as a negative thing. Well I am out of the closet! Yippee all I needed was some stranger to make it all right! LOL………………Linda

  7. I’m on a dead end road and half a mile off that. As soon as the Federal Government finds out folks like departed Burt, and me are happy that way, they’ll tax us off or put us in Jail. Jail, after they get every penny we have.

    • samere tansley on

      Did he succumb to the internet in the end… I see him howling at a dog on a laptop in the trailer??

      • Hi Samere. In Jody Shapiro’s documentary, Burt used the Internet to Skype his dog, Pasha. He was helped by his assistant.
        Thank you all, for your colourful comments.

  8. Grant Strange on

    Like Burt’s story…, I like nothing better than to stay in my studio all day painting or sketching out my ideas. The answering machine is always on, mostly people to sell something. I just stick to what keeps me happy, painting, carving and creating new ideas. Many say you are just living in a dream world and I tell them they are right. So it’s like Burt’s life, doing what you like best and with little or no interruptions That would be just fine with me, so make sure you call ahead, thanks!

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