University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

The Art of Insect Illustration

Aug 14 - Dec 23, 2011 at The Art Museum of the University of Kentucky

butterfliesExtended to Dec 23, 2011

As a part of our department's 120th Anniversary, we are partnering with the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky to present The Art of Insect Illustration. This temporary exhibit features a group of technical drawings that were created a century ago by W. C. Matthews, a staff member who was hired to illustrate our scientist's professional publications.


In the days before digital microphotography, scientists depended on artists like Matthews to provide detailed likenesses of insects and other organisms. These illustrations were reproduced in journal articles, books, and field guides, and aided in the quick and accurate identification of specimens. Although it is considered something of a dying art, scientific illustration is still taught and practiced today, and many scientists and naturalists prefer illustrations to photographs because of their clean, detailed, and neutral presentations.


On display in the new exhibit are familiar Kentucky insects like the Viceroy (our state butterfly) and a June beetle. Joining them are strange, cryptic creatures like horse fly larvae and thorn-like treehoppers. You will also find the complete life cycles of several insects, including the pestiferous black fly, the beautiful Virginia creeper sphinx moth, and the larval, pupal, and adult stages of both the worker and queen honey bee. Joining the insects are a few insect-relatives, including the Giant Leopard Slug, Limax maximus. There is also an interactive component to the exhibit: on hand are pinned insect specimens and art supplies that artists (young and old) can use to practice insect illustration.


Although Matthews' illustrations were created for scientific purposes, we think that they have aesthetic value as well. The Art Museum agrees. But are they really art? You will have to come to the exhibit and judge for yourself. Certainly, they are fascinating to see, and they provide a unique (and exquisitely detailed) glimpse into our department's past.


The Art of Insect Illustration

  • The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky
    August 14 – Dec 23, 2011
    In the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose Street (Rose Street and Euclid Avenue), Lexington, KY 40506-0241
    OPEN: Tuesday – Sunday: noon to 5 pm; Friday noon to 8 pm
    CLOSED: Mondays & University Holidays
    ADMISSION: All exhibitions are free for all students and for UK staff, faculty, & alumni. Admission to the Art of Insect Illustration is free for all guests. Admission to other temporary exhibits: $8 general / $5 senior citizen (free Friday nights from 5 til 8 pm)
    CONTACT: 859.257.5716 / Art Museum


Winged Aphid, featured in The Art of Insect Illustration at the UK Art Museum
Above right: detail of Viceroy Butterfly