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Archive for the ‘Art Project’ Category

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Fig. 1: Specimens of the Lanternfly Fulgora laternaria from Mexico in the collection of the Manchester Museum. © The Manchester Museum.

Surely, there are no other living things that rival insects in their vast variety in shape and form. One of the most spectacular group of insects is Lanternflies or Lantern Bugs (family Fulgoridae, order Hemiptera) distributed in the tropics of both the Old and New Worlds (see here for images). The Lanternfly collection at the Manchester Museum is not particularly large, consisting of 150 specimens that belong to 34 identified species (see Allnatt, 2013, for further details).

The following story has been prepared by Kasia Majewski, the Curatorial Assistant within the Manchester Museum Vivarium, whose background is a mix of herpetological (reptile and amphibian) and Entomological work. One of Kasia’s entomological idols, and an inspiration for her passion in ecology, is Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), one of the first naturalists to observe insects directly, make associations between different insect species and host plants, and capture these interactions in stunning colour through her coloured plates. Mrs Merian was not only arguably the first female entomologist, but one of the first naturalists who was also a professionally trained artist, coupling her carefully written observations of species with her mesmerizing illustrations.

Many of her scientific observations are still recognized and valid today, however one story regarding a particular species has always captured people imagination. Fulgoridae, or Lanternflies, are tropical, often colourful flying insects with long protrusions coming from their heads, giving their bodies a uniquely triangular appearance when sitting at rest with their wings closed. In this position, they could be considered lantern shaped, but it is not from this form that they received their name. Across the world where Lanternflies are found, so too are ancient stories of their little bodies lighting up at night from their bright shining protruding “noses”. Maria Sibella Merian was one of the first Europeans to describe this behaviour during her time in Suriname. She wrote that she was presented with a box of live lanternflies, which produced “a fiery light so bright that she could read by it” from their unusually elongated heads (Fig. 2). Given Merian’s penchant for attention to detail, this account is intriguing.

 

Lantern_Bug_01

Fig. 2: A watercolour of a Punica granatum with the life stages of a Cicada (Fidicina mannifera) and a Lanternfly (Fulgora laternaria) from Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (plate 49); online here.

More intriguingly, however, while these stories of light emitting flying lanterns have persisted through generations of native tribes in areas where lanternflies are found, from South America to Southeast Asia,  modern entomologists have never recorded any species of Fulgoridae producing any kind of bioluminescence (or here), and the function of that whimsical elongated “nose” remains a captivating mystery…

You can find more about the Manchester Museum’s Fulgoridae collection in the following paper: Allnatt G. 2013. Recuration of the Fulgoridae collection at the Manchester Museum. Journal of Natural Science Collections, 1: 4-7.

Illustrated records of particular fulgorid species in our collection can be searched online here.

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Copris lunaris

Horned Dung Beetle (Copris lunaris; family Scarabaeidae) from the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Martin Wilson.

About 25-30% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are designers, artists and photographers who come to get inspired by the great diversity of shapes, colours and forms of millions of insects that are retained there. One of the photographers who have been attracted and inspired by our insect collections is Martin Wilson, a photography student from University Centre Blackburn College (accredited by Lancaster University). The aim of Martin’s current project is to create a series of high-quality macro photographs of endangered British insects, some of which – like the Horned Dung Beetle (Copris lunaris) depicted above – are in decline or already became extinct. From November 2018 till March 2018, the Manchester Museum will hold an exhibition of the excellent photographs created by Martin Wilson in order to draw attention of our visitors to their phenomenal beauty and the need to protect and conserve them. The humanity needs insects not only for the ecological services they provide (e.g., here), but also for the sake of their own beauty that has been inspiring artists, poets and entomologists for generations.

“Rare beetles and molluscs which daytime abhor,

Fly larvae, pale woodlice all come to the fore

Midst wood boring creatures with death-tapping call

For savings allotted from decades of store” – by Chris Terrell-Nield (2017)

Lixus paraplecticus

A rare species of British weevils (Lixus paraplecticus; family Curculionidae) from the collection of the Manchester Museum. © Martin Wilson.

Although the Manchester Museum has offered the exhibition space for Martin Wilson for free, some funding for production costs are required, such as the cost of printing, framing and promoting this exhibition. You could help Martin Wilson to produce this exhibition by providing a donation, no matter how small. If you are in the position to help, please, go here for further details.

 

 

 

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About 30-40% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are art or design students and professionals, who come over to get inspired by the variety of insect shapes, colours and patterns, and to talk to the museum curatorial staff about what interests them. Museum’s curators are especially pleased when such visits result in something tangible, such as an installations, original ideas for contemporary product and/or jewellery design, and, of course, pure examples of fine art.

Here we are pleased to present an interview with Robin Gregson-Brown, a Lepidoptera artist as he calls himself, from Derbyshire (recorded 20th October 2016). At the age of 80 and in retirement, Robin has embarked a new career of poetic artist of nature. And what could be more beautiful nature’s beautiful creatures than moths and butterflies? Hardly anything! Robin is fascinated by Lepidoptera all his life and now started to satisfy his passion by painting them in mixed media.

In collaboration with the Derby Museum and the Manchester University Museum, he has produced a series of spellbinding images of endangered and extinct butterflies, which were displayed once in his personal exhibition at the Derby Museum (22nd May – 5th June 2016).

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During the field trip to Iceland, we have visited many places of interests, including of course pebble-beaches on sea shores made of  grey, smooth basalt pebbles.

Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)

Grey basalt pebbles on the sea-shore of western Iceland (Londrangar, Snaefellsnes)

To my surprise, the same pebbles can be found on shelves of many gift- or craft-shops that are available virtually in every hamlet, village or town of Iceland. However, the pebbles in shops are nicely hand-painted, representing examples of mini-artworks, often naive but always touchy (see on the photos below). In one shop the painted pebbles were crafted as ladybirds of various shapes and colours (from yellow and green to the traditional red-coloured beetles).

Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.

Lovely ladybird crafted from pebble, NW Iceland.

I don’t know whether it is indeed a national Icelandic tradition to hand-paint pebbles, such craft is suitable to everyone, from children to enthusiastic adults, allowing everyone to become a master of own mini-masterpiece. Someone called this the ‘beach stone craft’; further instruction and inspiration of this craft can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Han-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.

Hand-painted pebbles with diverse wishes, craft festival at Hrafnagil near Akureyri, NW Iceland.

A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.

A collection of artworks (=painted pebbles) produced by students of a local primary school on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Museum in Heimaey Island.

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On the second day of our staying in San Jose (11th June), we had a chance to visit the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) – the archaeological museum organized by the Central Bank of Costa Rica in 1950. This Museum hosts temporary exhibitions on a variety of themes and also houses a remarkable permanent gallery of pre-Columbian gold objects crafted between 300 A.D. and the 16th century, the time of the first contact with Europeans.

Objects manufactured during this period present a mixture of styles generated by contact and exchange with neighbouring regions such as modern central Panama and modern Colombia. Objects exhibited in the Museum were used as trade goods between regions and as ritual ornaments and funerary offerings. Many figures depict men with animal masks, apparently pointing to some superhuman qualities of those leaders who wore them. There are many animal figurines, including those of frogs, which are especially numerous, jaguar, alligators, bat, and others. Of the arthropods, only figurines of butterflies, crustaceans and spiders were displayed.

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, San Jose, Costa Rica

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, San Jose, Costa Rica

Butterflies
In traditional stories of the indigenous people of Talamanca, the butterfly is a woman who serves as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds. This role of messenger and special being is reflected in the criteria used to select the woman who can be trained to carry out ritual tasks. They must have positive traits such as honesty, bravery and dedication.

Butterfly-shaped pendants, with the body representing alligators - the common practice of combining animals within a single object.

Butterfly-shaped pendants, with the body representing alligators – the common practice of combining animals within a single object.

Crustaceans
During the pre-Colombian period the marine environment was intensely exploited for edible species such as shrimps, crabs, lobsters and fish. Figurines of all these animals were manufactured as shown below.

Crab-shaped pendants.

Crab-shaped pendants.


Lobster-shaped pendants and circular pectoral (in the centre). The pectoral was a symbol of high rank among pre-Columbian people.

Lobster-shaped pendants and circular pectoral (in the centre). The pectoral was a symbol of high rank among pre-Columbian people.

Spiders
I could not photograph the autentic gold spider-shaped pendant in the Museum, and here is a photo of nice replica manufactured by a contemporary artists from the open-air market near the National Museum of San Jose.

Replica of the spider-shaped bell, with a hanging smaller bell.

Replica of the spider-shaped bell, with a hanging smaller bell.

The explanatory text provided above is based on the captions displayed in the Museo del Oro and the book by P. Esquivel (2012) ‘Extraordinary pieces from the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum’

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Being fascinated by a range and diversity of Manchester Museum’s galleries and exhibitions, many of our visitors want then to visit a particular Museum’s store in order to know more about the collections deposited behind-the-scenes and/or people working there. The Manchester Museum’s Entomology store retaining some 2.5 million specimens of insects is a usual place for visits not only by specialists-entomologists but also by art, design or photography students. Photographic reports resulting from such visits are always welcomed by the staff, as they show how different maybe a visitor’s view compared to what we can think of as a usual place and/or routine practice. Here is a short report received from one of our visitors, George Burgess, a first-year photography student, who visited the Entomology store in late Nov 2013.

“For my first-year photography assignment I was producing photograms – images made without a camera – using bugs. On a visit to the museum, Dmitri’s display in the Manchester Gallery caught my eye and I wanted to know more. It was really interesting to visit the department and see how everything is labelled and the large quantities of insects.”

View of the entomology store and one of our reference collections of British butterflies

View of the entomology store and one of our reference collections of British butterflies

There are hundreds of store-boxes containing thousands of undetermined insects; Dmitri, the curator, is holding a draw of undetermined parasitoid British wasps

There are hundreds of store-boxes containing thousands of undetermined insects; Dmitri, the curator, is holding a draw of undetermined parasitoid British wasps

Besides insect collection, the Manchester Museum's Entomology department retains archive originated from the people who used to work in the Museum or who donated their collections

Besides insect collections, the Manchester Museum’s Entomology department retains related archives that originated from the people who used to work in the Museum or who donated their collections

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The Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department welcomes a wide array of visitors, from scientists coming to study our extensive insect collections to designers and artists exploring the diversity of shapes, colours or patterns of the many thousands of creepy-crawlies deposited here. Some time ago, the Entomology Department was visited by Ms Michelle Topping based at Mirabel Studios in Manchester. Michelle spent a day looking at and drawing various butterflies from our collection and here is her first result, the painting inspired by her visit.

The painting inspired by the visit to the Entomology department of the Manchester Museum

The painting inspired by the visit to the Entomology department of the Manchester Museum

Here is some information Michelle wrote about her own work:

My paintings explore the two worlds of reality and the virtual world of being online. The butterflies reflect a fragile impermanent beauty which can often be missed when attention has been stopped to the here and now. Most of my work involves portraits of people who have inspired me and others with certain characteristics and talents. It’s the word talent which interest me the most, as I like to explore the hard work and determination which hides behind it.

 Michelle is based at Mirabel Studios in Manchester. They have an open studio on the 9th May. Everyone is welcome. For more information go online.

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