Posts Tagged ‘insects’

The art of Maria Sibylla Merian

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Chances are you hadn’t heard of Maria Sibylla Merian before she was celebrated by Google on her 366th birthday April 2nd. And yet she was  one of the most famous and accomplished naturalists of her day.

She was born in 1647, in Germany. Her father, an engraver and publisher, died when she was three. Her stepfather was a Dutch painter who inspired his young daughter, but left when she was twelve, leaving Maria and her mother on their own. Maria continued her art, taking a special interest in insects, which she would catch and raise so that she could draw them. This would be an unusual habit even for a teenager today, and it was unheard of for a girl in the 17th Century. Her mother must have been wonderfully supportive.

Maria Sibylla MerianShe had a particular interest in the metamorphosis of butterflies, and she studied and documented this process firsthand. She was also very interested in the connection between plants and insects, and often painted insects with the plants that provided food for them. She was also fiercely independent. At the age of 52 and divorced, she took her 16-year-old daughter on a trip to South America to study the plants and insects there. Her daughter followed in her footsteps, continuing her work in South America even as Maria had to return home due to illness.

What I find especially amazing about this artist is her love of insects. Today we do everything we can to eliminate insects from our daily lives. We spray them with poison even at the risk of our own health, despite the fact that insects support our entire ecosystem. And yet she saw something beautiful in them, despite (or perhaps because of) their strange appearance.

The painting at the top of this page appears at first glance to be a simple flower arrangement, but five insects add a wildness that’s surprising and a little unnerving. We expect our flora paintings to be gentle and harmless, we don’t expect them to bite us. But in depicting insects as beautiful works of art, she is inviting us into her world, telling us not to be afraid, that there is much to be celebrated in these little creatures.

Maria Sibylla Merian was ahead of her time in many ways, and we can all be inspired by her life and her work. You can read a lot about her at this website, which has links to many articles and galleries of her work.

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Art by Maria Sibylla Merian

Below is a slideshow put together by a fan on YouTube, to the music of Handel.

* * *

A glimpse at my own untended garden

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Daisies

About once a year I take a break from my usual postings here to show you a peek into my own garden, which is almost as untended as this website.

One of my favorite things about having a garden is seeing all the insects that come to visit — the honeybees, bumblebees, dragonflies, crickets, beetles, spiders, green leaf hoppers, butterflies, ladybugs, ants, and many more. These are the unseen foundation of our ecosystem. Without a healthy insect population, everything else would fall apart, and I’m happy to provide them with a home for the summer.

I’ll leave you with a very short poem by that most prolific garden poet, who loved insects as much as (if not more than) people:

The Pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee –
A Clover, at any time, to him,
Is Aristocracy –

Emily Dickinson

* * *

Sweet Peas

Rabbits

Daisy

Cricket

Dahlia

Dragonfly

Rose

Garden

Mushroom

Dandelion

Drawing the natural world

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Tablet and insect

A few weeks ago I attended a NESCBWI workshop on drawing animals, which took place at the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. The lab is an amazing place, a huge room filled with preserved animals, insects, fish, fossils, seeds, stones — a virtual survey of the natural world. For this particular event there were also several live animals brought in, including a huge tortoise, a ferret, and a parrot.

Most of the afternoon was spent drawing, and people wandered freely about, drawing whichever animals interested them. The entire room, with its ceiling-high glass cabinets and boxes of specimens, had the feeling of a 19th Century naturalist’s study, and one could imagine Darwin walking through the door at any moment.

Animal at the nature labAs an artist who loves animals, I found the preserved animals unnerving and fascinating at the same time. You feel a mixture of awe, curiosity, sympathy, and connection with the once-living creatures, you wonder where they came from, what kind of life they led. There is a long history of artists drawing deceased animals, from Leonardo to Audubon. You can observe an amazing amount of detail from such close observation, though the drawback is that the drawing often ends up as lifeless as its subject.

The whole day was very inspiring, and seeing so much of the natural world crammed into one room really makes you think about how much is alive all around us, and how everything is connected. Hopefully these kind of creatures will remain alive and healthy in the wild, so that nature centers like this don’t become the only places to find them.

Here are some of my photos and sketches from the day. Thanks to Christina Rodriguez for organizing such a great workshop!

insect drawings by John Lechner

stick insect drawing by John Lechner

insect drawings by John Lechner

tortoise drawing by John Lechner

~ ~ ~

Nature Lab at RISD

~ ~ ~

Parrot in the Nature Lab

~ ~ ~

Ocean creatures

~ ~ ~

Ocean creatures

~ ~ ~

Butterfly collection

~ ~ ~

Butterfly

~ ~ ~

Longhorn Beetle

~ ~ ~

Stick Insect

~ ~ ~

Giant Tortoise

~ ~ ~

Finally, here’s a short video taken at the end of the day – exercise time!

~ ~ ~