Wednesday, October 20, 2010

John Hampson's Bug Art

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This was quite an unique display. The Fairbanks Museum hosts the complete collection of the nine Bug Art creations by John Hampson. Born in England in 1836, he came to America at the age of 26. He was a mechanical genius, inventor and entomologist. He worked in 13 different states and at one time worked with Thomas Edison. It is said he left that job when he learned that he had to milk a cow.

He ended up in Newark, NJ in the 1870's. He had a passion for collecting insects and saw the aesthetic potential of the many colors and shapes which led him to start creating bug art. Each one of these pictures is made up of 6,000-13,000 common insects, mostly butterflies and beetles, and took him years to complete each one painstakingly with pins and glue. He was a machinist by day and created these artworks in his spare time.

When you first look at these pictures, you don't think much of it, but when you look closely and realize those shiny things are beetles, the first reaction is "eeewww"!
Then you look again and you realize the years of work that had to go into each image. It is amazing. I feel sorry for the butterflies. Yes, I'm the type who wouldn't harm a fly and wish I could say, "no insects were harmed in the making of this artwork."

John Hampson collected and exchanged bugs with people from foreign countries amassing such a great collection that it is now at the Smithsonian. After his death, his daughter searched for a museum to take his artwork and found that the Fairbanks Museum would take it. It is said that people have travelled from all around to see this display--it's one of those things that makes one say, "And now I've seen everything."

An interesting antidote is that when he was 73 years old in December 1906, he fell from a trolley and tried to sue the North Jersey Street Railroad for $10,000 because he could no longer pursue his favorite hobby of butterfly and insect collecting. He claimed before the accident that he could travel 40-50 miles a day. And we thought outrageous lawsuits were new to our century!

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