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Anna Colette Hunt
Anna Colette Hunt

10,000 Ceramic Insects Swarm English Manor

Anna Colette Hunt
Anna Colette Hunt

From a distance, the dense river of insects surging up the walls and ceilings of Wollaton Hall is pretty creepy. But take just a few steps closer, and you’ll be rewarded with an astonishing surprise: the swarm is comprised entirely of ceramic bugs, each hand-made and unique. The thousands of pieces are an installation by artist Anna Collette Hunt, who draws on natural history and fairy tales to create her gorgeous, unsettling environments.

“Stirring the Swarm” began in 2012, when Hunt was invited to create a solo exhibition in the Nottingham Natural History Museum, which occupies a former manor house in Nottingham, England. Hunt tells mental_floss that, at first, the idea was a bit overwhelming. “It was such a large space,” she said, “and I didn’t even have a kiln or a studio!”

Casting about for inspiration, Hunt took a behind-the-scenes tour with the museum’s curator of taxidermy. “She took me around this labyrinth that is their collections warehouse,” Hunt says. “We had to squeeze past headless or damaged taxidermy animals, and all the specimens had plastic bags over their heads. There were jam jars of noses and a drawer of glass eyes.” The overall effect was unnerving.

After the tour, Hunt continued to the entomology room where she had what she describes as a peculiar sort of daydream. “It was late afternoon and the golden sunlight was flickering on the entomology cabinets—and it looked as if the pin-speared specimens were waking up! And this wondrous idea flooded into my mind, the tale of a entomology collection waking up, and smashing out of their time capsules and soaring off into the night.”

Hunt began to draw strange, hybrid insects, all with butterfly wings. She consulted an entomologist, who helped her create Latin names for each imaginary species. Hunt created models and molds of each species, and a team of assistants helped her cast and glaze them. Because Hunt envisioned the insects as native to the museum, she chose colors from the manor’s interior and even transferred some of the building’s wallpaper into their wings.

Hunt didn't forget the way she felt while looking at the museum's stuffed animals. She also recognizes their value. “The thought of the act of killing in this way makes me feel ill,” she says, “and I’ve had to reflect greatly on this, as I use museum collections for lots of my research. It’s too late [for these animals], but transforming them into exhibits at museums seems like the correct honor for their sacrifice. I think the museum specimens are treated with respect and can bring joy and knowledge to thousands."

As a tribute to the real insects pinned to boards in entomology collections around the world, Hunt added a trickle of gold to some of her insects’ bodies.

The exhibition ultimately comprised more than 10,000 insects, bursting from glass cases, climbing the walls, and clinging to the ceiling. After the show closed, Hunt took several thousand bugs on the road for a touring show. The rest remained in Wollaton Hall as a permanent display to startle and amaze museum-goers for years to come. Hunt’s studio is still producing bugs and sells them in an online shop.

Although her work in the museum is complete, Hunt’s passion for natural history burns on. “I have so much … wonder for this world,” she says. “The soil, the sea, the stars, and our expanding universe. The biodiversity of animals and plants, fungi, moss—our world is just a miracle, and I am awestruck.”

All images courtesy of Anna Collette Hunt

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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