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Department of Entomology displays insect works at Purdue Galleries

An orange-bodied grasshopper gazes out on the gallery from dozens of shiny green eyes. In another corner, a perfectly drawn beetle hangs on the wall near a framed specimen of a tarantula. Purdue University’s Robert L. Ringel Gallery in Stewart Center has an infestation — but it won’t make you cringe.

Creepy crawlies of all kinds have come to blend art and science in the new exhibit “On Six Legs: 100 Years of Insect Art and Science.” The show, which will be up from Monday to
April 21, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Department of Entomology at Purdue with the works it has collected.

But Melissa Shepson, the educational outreach coordinator for department, said while seeing bugs in a gallery isn’t what people might expect, it’s not just bugs. It’s art.

“It’s just beautiful to look at,” she said. “And I don’t know if people would think about stunning works of art coming from an entomology department. It’s a little bit different.”

But before the pieces hung on gallery walls, Shepson said, their purpose was often for education. That is reflected in the work in the gallery, said Craig Martin, director of Purdue Galleries.

The pieces include old, hand painted scrolls with diagrams (from before the days of PowerPoint, Martin said). There also is student art from former Bug Bowls and colorful, extreme-close-up photos of insects taken and donated by entomology alumnus Tom Myers. In addition, there are technical illustrations, some from the staff illustrator, Arwin Provonsha, and actual specimens, mostly of different types of butterflies.

Though the pieces were meant for advancement, Martin said, they have an inherent aesthetic beauty. He said that amazing breadth of work, too — with illustrations, drawings and photography — can expose viewers to something new.

“It brings you a different appreciation for different kinds of arts,” he said. “It’s an interesting show in that it’s a wide variety of things.”

But beyond even that, Martin said, the show includes some valuable pieces. J.J. Davis, a professor, kept an eye out for cartoons that related in some way to insects, and he would ask the
illustrator to send him their work. They would, and Martin said many of those original cartoon works — including pieces from “Peanuts” and “Gasoline Alley” — are part of the exhibit. You can still see pencil sketches and eraser marks on some.  “It’s rare you actually get to see the original artwork,” Martin said.

Shepson said seeing this work in itself is rare, too. The pieces are things the department has accrued, and they aren’t usually on display.  “We don’t usually take these out unless it’s a very special occasion,” she said.

Both Martin and Shepson said that’s something people should take advantage of. The variety and unique subject might attract even the science-minded people who might never walk into an art gallery otherwise, Shepson said.

The draw of things that squirm and make us squeal, Martin said, also is part of the fun.

But Martin said no matter what attracts people to the gallery, they will know the show stands out. It’s a different kind of an art show,” he said. “It’s not art for art’s sake. It’s art for a scientific purpose.”

- Lauren Sedam
March 1, 2013