August 26, 2011 by Stan Wright
Drexel University’s research affiliate, the Academy of Natural Sciences, opened its most recent Art of Science exhibit Aug. 6, showcasing a variety of grasshopper, beetle and cricket sketches at various stages of completion.
The collection is comprised of work by ANS Curator of Entomology Dan Otte, a seasoned animal artist and the world’s foremost expert on crickets and grasshoppers. Members of the Academy pulled 32 pieces of art from Otte’s vast repertoire of insect drawings, sketches and watercolors that he completed over his 36 years with the museum.
Entitled “Dual Nature: Science Illustrations of Dr. Dan Otte,” the showcase is housed in the Art of Science exhibit, a department that focuses on “exhibits that spark people’s interest in science through beauty,” according to Director of Exhibits Jennifer Sontchi. She explained how members of the Academy landed on the idea of displaying Otte’s insect art in an exhibit.
“We went and looked at his work out of curiosity and we were shocked by the breadth of it and the incredible detail and the broadness of his range,” Sontchi recalled.
Aside from being impressed by Otte’s work, Sontchi said the decision was made in part to align with the Academy’s annual insect celebration entitled “Bug Fest,” which took place Aug. 13 and 14.
A group of exhibit coordinators, including Sontchi, had to sort through Otte’s vast work to decide what would end up being displayed, Sontchi said.
“When I saw his artwork, it was all spread on this large table and it was just stacks of art in all sorts of different styles,” she said.
Among the stacks were freehanded sketches, large colorful paintings, and pen and ink drawings of various insects.
“We looked for variety, process, pure stunning beauty and a variation of sizes,” Sontchi explained of the selection process.
The final exhibit displays the step-by-step methodology of Otte’s work in addition to fine art pieces, Sontchi explained.
“We wanted to show some of the process, so we found the same insect picture in different states. First in a sketch, and then the next picture would be a pen and ink, and then the full colored-in version in a triptych.”
The exhibit also employs the Academy’s vast sound clip library of some 20,000 insect recordings, the largest in the world. The sounds of four species of crickets were blended together and are being played on a loop in the exhibit hall.
“They add a lovely ambience and bring the exhibit to another level I think,” Sontchi said.
Otte’s Dual Nature exhibit is free with museum admission and will remain open through Dec. 4. Sontchi and other members of the Academy are already planning for when the exhibit closes, however, with a lineup of new exhibits to be displayed in the Art of Science gallery over the next two years.
“For the next exhibit, we’re going with Charley Harper, a graphic artist from the 50s,” Sontchi said. “After that we’re going to have a bicentennial celebration for the Academy of Natural Sciences entitled “200 years of Discovery.”
The Academy’s bicentennial will be celebrated over the course of the year 2012 and will include four separate Art of Science exhibits, including a Mongolia photography exhibit and a three-dimensional dinosaur model exhibit.
From now until Sept. 23, all Drexel students, faculty and professional staff can buy one general admission ticket to the Academy of Natural Sciences and get one of equal or lesser value for free.