Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Mantid

Part of the BugFest event that my museum held in September was a glorious sand sculpture of an insect out in front of the main building.  I got to watch a bit of the guys carving it the day before Bug Fest, but I didn’t get to see the final product until a few days after it was over.  It was out there for about a week, and I was glad because that thing was awesome:

Mantid sculpture

Mantid sculpture

You know, I wrote a poem for my English class in high school about nearly the exact same thing.  Odd to see it as a giant sand sculpture!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: My Insect Art Collection

We all know that I love insects.  We also all know that I take my work home with me in a BIG way.  I’ve got bugs everywhere – some real, some not.  I buy a lot of insect stuff and display it around my home.  (You know you’re an entomologist when someone says they weren’t sure they were at the right house until they looked down and saw the insect door mat!)  I love to support insect artists.  Today I’m going to share 5 pieces of insect art I have displayed in my home.

Dung Beetles, artist(s) unknown

ding beetle sculpture

My dad has always been obsessed with minerals.  I practically grew up in a hole in the ground digging for smoky quartz.   When I was young, we went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show religiously and I was thrilled to be able to go again when I moved back for grad school.  The first year, I planned my purchases (I need to have a plan or I’m overwhelmed by choices) and was ready to find the perfect sulfur specimen to add to my collection.  Instead, I walked away with the dung beetle sculpture pictured here.  I found it hidden in a booth of carved stone from Zimbabwe, back behind sculptures of mothers and children and quartz elephants.  I was beyond thrilled!  It’s metal (I LOVE metal sculptures!), came in two pieces (beetle + dung ball), and it was only $25.  The dealer was surprised that someone actually wanted it and said that Americans don’t appreciate dung beetles like Africans do.  He told me that they would be buried in elephant dung without their dung beetles, so the sculpture was an homage to a very important part of their lives.  My dung beetle is still my favorite sculpture – and now I have two!  Had to go back to the mineral show every year for 6 years to get it, but it was totally worth it.

Mayfly, William Wessel

mayfly sculpture

For several years, my art loving aunt from upstate New York spent a month in Scottsdale each January.  Every year we’d spend a long weekend in the Phoenix area going to art galleries, shopping, and eating really good food.  We have similar tastes in art and we fell in love with one particular gallery in Old Town Scottsdale.  It was full of brightly colored art of many different types: sculpture, painting, fiber, jewelry.  While my aunt debated whether to buy a $700 fiber piece, I perused the metal sculptures by William Wessel.  The gallery had a really great one, a three-foot high piece with two damselflies flying among cattails.  I coveted it, but it was $350, more than half what I was paid each month at the time.  I wandered the store pondering the fact that I was too poor to buy it when I came across three of Wessel’s little sculptures.  I was SO happy!  They were only $35, a much more reasonable price for someone with my tiny budget.  I had to choose between a mosquito, a damselfly, and a mayfly and walked away with the mayfly.  Really, how many people sculpt mayflies?  It makes my little sculpture so unique!

Coleoptera, Foster Beigler

beetle print

I featured this one on my Friday 5 about insect artists that I love, but I just have to show it again.  This is my favorite insect art piece I own!  It’s one of a kind, brightly colored, and it’s a linoleum block print, my favorite medium.  This was more expensive than most of the art pieces that I own and a huge pain to get home because I bought it at an Entomological Society of America meeting and couldn’t take it home on the plane.  When I worked out the details for having it shipped to me by the artist, she told me that she would put my name on it right then it so she didn’t accidentally sell it to someone else (as she had done more than once in the past), so I worried that it wouldn’t ever arrive at my house.  It eventually did, and then I spent $250 to have it framed.  It was all completely worth it in the end though!  It has the place of honor in my living room, the only thing on a big white wall that you see right when you walk in the front door.  Love it, love it, love it!

Mantid, Alex Yellich

mantid photo

Very few of you will likely ever hear of this artist.  Alex is one of my colleagues, a researcher at the University of Arizona.  He’s obsessed with insects and photography and spends nearly all his free time outdoors collecting or photographing bugs.  He’s my local photography expert, the person I go to when I have questions because he’s one of the few insect photographers I know that shoots Nikon.  And I love his photographs!  He had a little mini art show in the Department of Entomology office a few years back, and I bought the mantid photo shown here from him at the end of the show.  It’s displayed in a corner of my house with several other insect photos and it makes me smile every time I see it.  I’ve since bought a second photo (a stunning image of a dead tree in the Salton Sea – it’s so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes!) and I hope to buy some more in the future.  I wish Alex would at share his photos online (or, even better, sell them!) because he’s so good – and hardly anyone knows it.

Tawny Emperor, Melissa Buschow

tawny emperor print

Discovering the website Etsy was a bad, bad thing for me.  I like supporting artists and I like to buy insect art, and there are a whole lot of both on Etsy!  I spend way too much on Etsy…  This was one of the first things I bought, a woodcut print featuring a person holding a butterfly.  I can’t even explain why I like it so much, but there’s something about it that just works for me.  Maybe it’s the way the butterfly is being held, gently enough that you know that it’s still alive and will remain alive after it is released.  The print was a mere $18, but it’s always going to have a place on my walls.

Having bug art me so happy!  Insects are so beautiful and I want to share that beauty with others.  Supporting artists is a good thing too.  And buying insect art directly from the person who created it, so you can get the story behind the piece and learn all about the process, is a pure joy.  I highly recommend it!

Do any of the rest of you have insect art in your homes?  If so, I’d love to hear about what you have.  There’s even a handy-dandy comment section below to describe your awesome insect art.  I look forward to hearing what you’ve got!


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Big Bugs at the Desert Botanical Gardens

Way back in April or May I was invited to do an outreach event in Phoenix, one that would require my hauling live giant water bugs 100 miles and sweltering outside for two late summer evenings.  My participation was going to be part of an event held at the Desert Botanical Gardens (a FANTASTIC place!) to open their fall art exhibition.  So why did they want me there?  Because the sculptures were really big insects!  The museum was going to be open from 6-9PM two nights so that visitors could wander the gardens and view the Big Bugs exhibition before the exhibit was officially opened to the public.  As the visitors roamed about, they could learn about insects and other Sonoran Desert animals by stopping at various interpretive stations along the way.  I was going to be in charge of one of the interpretive stations, one featuring aquatic insects from Arizona.  So, the Friday before last, I packed up all the things I wanted to display and drove to Phoenix.

aquatic insect station

My aquatic insect station

The first night I was indoors.  In the same room where people were getting their dinners.  You know what people don’t like?  Being confronted with really big, live insects when they’re hungry and foraging for food!  I still got a fair number of visitors, but I was happy to be moved outside to a much better spot the second night.  I split my table in half.  Half was devoted to Arizona’s giant insects (real ones) in keeping with the theme of the art exhibit.  People could look at live giant water bugs and learn a bit about their parental care behaviors, their feeding behaviors, and how the bugs are eaten with gusto in some parts of the world.  I had a live adult dobsonfly for them to look at and talked about how it started out as a hellgrammite.  I had a chart that showed the relative sizes of some of the biggest insects in the world, including the largest insect ever, a giant griffenfly that roamed the earth over 300 million years ago.  The other half of the table was devoted to Arizona’s aquatic insects and featured many vials of insects from around the state, specimens of the most common aquatic insects in a box, and some bugs in plexiglass boxes the kids could pick up and look at more closely.  All in all, I think I talked to about 600 or 700 people over two nights and it was a lot of fun.

However, I didn’t have a chance to see the sculptures either night of the opening, and that was something I really wanted to do.  I was thankfully granted a pass to return the day after the event to see the exhibition myself.  I am so happy I went back because the sculptures were marvelous!  They were sculpted by an artist named David Rogers, who created his giant insect sculptures from found natural materials such as wood, bark, twigs, etc.  Several of his sculptures travel from place to place as part of a traveling exhibit, hence their presence at the Gardens.  I had seen the pictures of the sculptures on the artist’s website before, but I was very excited to have a chance to see them in person!

The first sculpture you see when you walk into the Gardens is Praying Mantis.  He looms over the small entrance garden.  Note that I was taking the photo standing at my full height of 5 feet, 4 inches and shooting up!  This is a BIG bug:


Mega mantid!

I loved Daddy Longlegs:

daddy longlegs

Humongous harvestman

You could see the top of this one from the road and I was very excited about the exhibit from the moment I drove in the first night and saw it.  Fun!  Two of my favorite insects were featured, the dragonfly:


Astronomical anisopteran

… and the damselfly:


Supersized spreadwing

They were all great and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to see them, but I didn’t come across my favorite sculptures until I made my way all the way to the back of the Gardens.  I didn’t have a map with me and didn’t know where all the sculptures were, so I wandered around aimlessly hoping I would see all of them.  After taking photos of some really nice cacti, I walked past the plants and saw this:

ants from afar

Astounding ants!

Considering Them! is one of my all time favorite movies, I instantly fell in love with the ants.  I couldn’t help but note the similarities between the sculptures and the movie.  Giant ants.  Desert.  The giant bugs crawling over a hill.  I LOVED the ant sculptures!  They looked even more amazing close up:

ants up close

Amazing ants

I think what I really liked about the ants was the positioning of the bugs so that they looked like they were walking on a giant anthill.  The sculptures themselves were wonderful, but their arrangement was what really sold them for me.

The last sculpture I saw on my way out was this fabulous spider in its web:


Super spider

Awesome!  Who doesn’t love giant insects?  (Well, probably a lot of people, but most of you reading this probably side with me.)

Between the great interactions with the garden staff and volunteers, the fun experience of talking to people in Phoenix about aquatic insects, and the chance to see the giant bug sculptures in one of my favorite places in Phoenix, the trip was a huge success!  I came away from the experience very happy and enthusiastic about being a part of my next big outreach event, the Arizona Insect Festival in Tucson on September 24.

Big Bugs runs at the Desert Botanical Gardens through January 1, 2012.  I highly encourage you to visit if you happen to be in the Phoenix area!  They’ve got a ton of great events planned in conjunction with the exhibit, including move nights, a masquerade, and several lectures.  Please visit the Big Bugs website for more information and the schedule of events!


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