“Amongst the earliest known entomologists
were women of rank, wealth and fashion
who reared butterflies,
painted them and embroidered their images on cloth.”
~ Michael A. Salmon, The Aurelian Legacy
This month my Lady Lepidopterists encaustic collage is featured on Light Space & Time’s online gallery. This collage was in the works for some time, as I delved more into biographies of women who studied butterflies throughout 2012 after being so smitten with Maria Sybilla Merian.
I read Fiona Mountain’s Lady of the Butterflies about 17th Century Eleanor Glanville and was fascinated by the story of determination Eleanor had in spite of being considered eccentric and later being accused of insanity for her butterfly hunts. The title page of that book is incorporated into the collage.
“Butterflies were Margaret’s key to freedom.
Studying them gave her a socially acceptable way to
exempt herself form a traditional domestic role on England.”
~ Natasha Scott-Stokes, Wild and Fearless
Thanks to the Evanston Public Library I also discovered botanist Ynes Mexia, author Hilda Simon, Margaret Fountaine, and a range of women naturalists mentioned in compilations or in passing. I am astounded by the bravery of these trailblazing women, who didn’t care that they were made out for lunatics but kept pursuing their passion in spite of societal and wardrobe constraints on women at the time. I also admire contemporary butterfly artists and researchers, and love discovering more.
The collage includes my drawing of a rice paper butterfly, also called the Large Tree Nymph. My friend and drawing teacher Lauren Coyne gave me this specimen when I took her drawing workshop a few summers ago.
“A lepidopterist or aurelian is
a person who specializes in the study of Lepidoptera,
members of an order encompassing moths and
the three superfamilies of butterflies,
skipper butterflies, and moth-butterflies.”
In May 2012 my neighborhood was a butterfly haven and I saw my first Painted Ladies and Question Marks. I had never seen either of those butterfly species before, but both were feasting on the local foliage and were wonderful posers.
The Question Mark gets its name from the silver marking on its underwing, which resembles a question mark. It is similar to the Comma butterfly, which doesn’t have the “dot” on its underwing, just a comma, and also doesn’t have the purplish edges on its wings that the Question Mark does.
Upon commemorating the brave woman lepidopterists of current and past centuries on my substrate (Eleanor Glanville, Margaret Cavendish, Maria Sybilla Merian, Lauren Levato Coyne, Hilda Simon, Rachel Ruysch, Emily Mary Bowdler Sharpe, Margaret Fountaine, Jeannine Oppewall), I layered encaustic medium and green hues of encaustic paint onto the surface.
“I was careering wildly after everything I saw,
though catching tropical butterflies was no easy matter,
the intense heat seemed to have a most invigorating effect on them.”
~ Margaret Fountaine, Love Among The Butterflies, 1907 in Mombasa
After a few layers I added the collage materials, with the large photo of the Question Mark going on last.
The 3rd Annual “All Women” Art Exhibition will be featured through April, and then move to the Light Space & Time Archives. The art in the Special Merit Category could have also been placed in the top tier of the entries selected, but due to size constraints was given its own category.
The gallery received 709 entries from 22 different countries from around the world, including Armenia, Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Sweden,Â Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and the Ukraine, and entries from 36 different states in the U.S.
You can peruse my butterfly art work on Etsy, including collages of various sizes and pendants.
“Reading about the lives of the collectors
we sense that they are people who,
however inept at dealing with matters of state,
have accidentally found the secret of happiness
concentrating with astonishing tenacity
to the details of another parallel world
rising above the ills to which human flesh is heir,
on the wings of the angelic butterfly.”
~Miriam Rothchild, June 1999, The Aurelian Legacy
Recommended butterfly/naturalist reading:
- Ynes Mexia: Botanist and Adventurer, Durlynn Anema
- Swallowtail Butterflies, Jane Dallinger
- Butterflies and Moths, Ken Preston Mafham
- Luna Moths: Masters of Change, Sandra Merkle
- Butterflies and Moths -Eyewitness Handbook, David Carter
- Wonders of the Butterfly World, Hilda Simon
- An Obsession With Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair With A Singular Insect, Sharman Apt Russell
- Lady of the Butterflies, Fiona Mountain
- A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton Porter
- Wild and Fearless: The Life of Margaret Fountaine, Natascha Scott-Stokes
- Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady, Margaret Fountaine
- The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and their Collectors, MichÃ¦l A. Salmon, Peter Marren, Basil Harley
- The Family Butterfly Book, Rick Mikula
- Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
- Die Blumenkönigin. Ein Maria Sibylla Merian- Roman, Inez van Dulleman
- Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis, Kim Todd