Evan Summer

~ Images From Nature ~

Insects from the collection of the Reading Public Museum

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Albrecht Durer drew a stag beetle in 1505. It was rendered with obvious fascination, keen observation and meticulous care. I believe I have been attracted to beetles, especially large beetles, for the same reasons as Durer and many other artists – their beauty, as well as the diversity of colors, textures, patterns and forms in these insects. Other insects like butterflies are beautiful too. But large beetles look threatening, and I was uncomfortable even picking up a preserved specimen. A rhinoceros beetle with an eight-inch wingspan is intimidating dead or alive. Charles Darwin remarked that if this type of beetle were enlarged to the size of a horse or even a dog “with its polished bronze coat of mail and its vast complex of horns…it would be one of the most imposing animals in the world.” So, for me they’re simultaneously beautiful, menacing and ugly, an aesthetic much more complex and interesting than just being beautiful.

Two unexpected opportunities allowed me to study and photograph truly extraordinary insect specimens. I was given access to the collection of the Reading Public Museum. The Museum was founded by an entomologist, Levi Mengel, over a hundred years ago and his specimens formed the nucleus of their collection. The collection continued to develop, but I was told that no specimens had been added for over 50 years. It is housed in an old, poorly lit storage building on the museum grounds in tall wooden cabinets of glass- covered drawers. In looking at the carefully preserved, arranged and labeled specimens I had the feeling I was going back in time, viewing a collection that hadn’t been seen for 30 or 40 years! Not only did I have a superb collection of insects to work with, but also a fascinating view of the history of scientific taxonomy and display. The second opportunity was working with Bob Natalini, whose profession and passion was collecting, mounting and creating jewelry made of insects.

High-resolution digital photography allowed me to observe insects in greater detail and understand their structures. For the first time I began thinking of photography as my creative medium. I also used photographs of beetles, cicadas, and grasshoppers as well as the actual insects for reference in creating drawings, etchings and lithographs. This body of work formed a solo exhibition at the Reading Public Museum in 2005.

My artwork with insects as subjects was an interesting change from my landscapes but not the first time I’d worked with natural forms. I drew and made etchings of vegetables such as the White Radish in the early 1980s. I had never seen this kind of root vegetable before and was intrigued by the tentacle- like structures that made it look like a sea animal as much as a vegetable. Later I became interested in microscopic forms. For example the drypoint print Myriophyllum Stem, is a highly magnified cross section of the stem of an aquatic plant. I tried drawing things like horseshoe crabs, and eventually became very interested in insects as subjects for photographs as well as drawings and prints.

— EVAN SUMMER, Professor of Art, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania