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Entomological Vase Earns First Place in Art Show at 2022 Joint Annual Meeting

closeup view of detail on a light reddish brown ceramic vase, featuring sculpted images of insects including a cicada and a beetle, among others

A ceramic vase featuring dozens of insects wowed attendees and earned the top honors at the juried art show at the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia in November. Sarah Ritchie, an independent artist based in Alberta, Canada, says the 2-foot-tall vase features nearly 40 insect “specimens,” an homage to natural history collections and their power to enhance our understanding of biological diversity and taxonomy. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Ritchie)

The 2022 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia in November featured a juried art show, with more than 40 entries on display. Following the conference theme, “Entomology as Inspiration: Insects through art, science, and culture,” the show engaged visitors in the Exhibit Hall with a variety of dynamic and thought-provoking creations that captured intersection of science and art.

Attendees voted for their favorite entries in the art show, and the top prize (as well as first place in the three-dimensional art category) went to “Entomological Vase,” created by Sarah Ritchie, an independent artist based in Alberta, Canada.

Ritchie says the vase is the third—and largest, at over 2 feet (63.5 centimeters) tall—in a series of vases she has created in this style. It features nearly 40 insect “specimens” around the circumference, an homage to natural history collections and their power to enhance our understanding of biological diversity and taxonomy.

Entomology Today posed a few questions to Ritchie about her work.

profile view of Sarah Ritchie, looking to the left, with long red hair tied in a bun, wearing round wire-frame glasses and a white turtleneck sweater. also draped around her neck is a small white snake.

Sarah Ritchie

Entomology Today: This vase and your other work features a lot of insects and arthropods. What draws you to insect and arthropod themes so regularly?

Ritchie: I’ve always had an affinity for under-appreciated taxa. I’ve kept snakes since I was six years old; I have done outreach programs with reptiles, bats, invertebrates, etc., during my time as a wildlife educator; and I have consistently found very rewarding outcomes to introducing people to animals that have largely negative public perspectives.

It is surprisingly easy to sway peoples’ opinions about something if you can show enthusiasm and care about these taxa while demystifying parts of their reputation. Using art as an extension of this idea has worked very well, as creating an abstraction of the real thing allows people to engage with the idea of insects—something they may dislike—through more approachable media.

Arthropods specifically became a strong visual theme in my work as I developed my figural ceramic technique. Their bilateral symmetry and relatively flat profile means I can try to accurately depict them on a relatively flat surface. Taking inspiration from real pinned insects, I have no limit to the range of morphologies out there, so I can keep introducing new species while trying to remain accurate to real specimens.

You have a degree in archaeology, and it’s easy to see some echoes of that interest in your work. How did you arrive at this current intersection of your passions in art and science?

I have always enjoyed both sciences and art. After finishing a theory-heavy degree, I found I was missing a creative outlet and began ceramics as a hobby. I am largely self-taught and didn’t expect it to become a career on its own. Having found an amazing amount of support online through social media, I am now a fully incorporated business, and I create this work as my full-time job. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to incorporate so many of my interests into what I do for a living. It is very rewarding to tie my interests in the natural world and science communication into my art in a way that has reached so many people.

Your presentation at the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting was titled, “Bug mugs: Promoting insect appreciation through ceramics.” What key messages from that presentation could you share for those who couldn’t be in attendance?

As a brief takeaway, I discussed how art can act as a powerful communication and education device by connecting the scientific community to the public. I was able to provide somewhat of a case example through my experience where art—by means of being palatable and approachable to a wide audience—can develop relational values with insects that build the foundation for goals of the scientific community to act upon, such as public awareness, education, conservation efforts, funding, etc.

I also encouraged more of an interdisciplinary approach between artists and scientists. Having a background in biological sciences through my degree—before I changed stream into archaeology—as well as working as a wildlife educator and having an entomologist as my partner all mean that I conveniently already have a foot in each door, and I recognize that as a great privilege. However, I know many artists who have a great deal of interest in the biological sciences without that background. I see collaboration between these fields as capable of providing numerous outreach opportunities.

Learn more about Ritchie’s work on the web or on Instagram. ESA also congratulates art show entrants Warren Wong, whose image “The Encounter” was chosen as winner in the Photography & Digital category; and Tara Roth, whose entry “Four Horsemen of the Entopocalypse” was chosen as winner in the Traditional category. Explore additional photos of the art show at the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting below.


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