With an untamed beard and wrinkles around the eyes, it isn’t a face you’d expect to find among the lip glosses and makeup removers. But there, beneath an angled newsboy cap, is Burt Shavitz, adorning the logo of his namesake natural cosmetics line.
Shavitz, the face and cofounder of Burt’s Bees, died Sunday.
“We remember him as a bearded, free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers and his land,” a statement on the company’s website read.
Known for its natural ingredients, which have expanded beyond beeswax to açaí berry, baobab, and willow bark, Burt’s Bees products are easily recognizable by their packaging.
Its folksy logo, in keeping with the company’s origin story (Shavitz met his cofounder, a single mother, as she was thumbing a ride home), comes from humble and somewhat serendipitous roots.
Tony Kulik, a self-taught engraver who lives in Belfast, Maine, met Shavitz and his business partner, Roxanne Quimby , when they were selling honey and candles at craft fairs in the late 1980s. Back then, “they didn’t really have a clue about anything,” he said.
It was at a show in Camden, Maine, while Kulik was selling his art in an adjacent booth, that Quimby asked if Kulik would do an engraving they could use to market their products. He engraved a bee skep, a domed hive made of braided straw, using a complex process he details on his website.
Since that initial commission, Kulik estimates he has made around 100 wood engravings for Burt’s Bees, from images of vegetables to birds to birch trees under a full moon. At one point, Kulik even engraved an image of Shavitz’s dog, Rufus. Each took between 25 and 40 hours, he said.
And then there’s the iconic picture of Shavitz.
“We were talking about having a common image for the products,” Kulik said, when he suggested a portrait of Shavitz. At the time, he said, most products used one of two designs: Kulik’s bee skep or a bee that Quimby sketched during an overnight flight.
Given the company’s name, a portrait of Shavitz seemed a natural choice, Kulik said. He based the image on a Polaroid by Shavitz’s mother.
This work was all behind the scenes. “For years I was a secret,” Kulik said.
Indeed, Kiluk said it took Jody Shapiro, who directed a 2013 documentary about Shavitz called “Burt’s Buzz,” quite a bit of digging to determine who the artist was.
Kulik, who in his work for the company dealt mostly with Quimby, said he last saw Shavitz about 15 years ago, and he looked almost exactly the same — maybe slightly skinnier.
“He was a very eccentric person,” Kulik said of Shavitz. “Who knows what Burt really was?”