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September, 2009

The Big Bugs

by Valerie

During a trip to visit my sister's family in Wisconsin back in Sept., 2003, we took an excursion to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Along with Vicky and her two children, Lucas and Isabella, Larry and I had a chance to admire acres of colorful gardens on a warm, sunny day. There were plenty of flowers and other plants, but there was also something I didn't expect. Perhaps Vicky knew of the special exhibit beforehand, but probably had no idea what it would look like. As we started touring the grounds, we discovered, scattered about in various locations, Big Bugs! These were imaginatively wrought wooden sculptures of normally rather small insects, but on a scale measured in feet rather than inches. Some were obviously displayed in open places while others were tucked away in shaded nooks. Some towered over our heads while others simply stood several feet above the ground. They were delightful and we had a blast discovering and photographing them.

In 2006 I started making regular trips to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to take photos. In July of that year, who should make an appearance but the Big Bugs!? Because I had taken digital pictures of the ones we saw back in 2003, they were pretty familiar to me and it was like seeing old friends. I was thrilled that they installed a good number of them in the gardens and enjoyed seeing and photographing them in all sorts of weather over the next few months. During my regular hikes around the grounds, I noticed that there was a sort of workshop set up in a large container, like the ones hauled on semi-trucks. It was in a small parking lot at the back of the gardens and I frequently walked past it on my way to the wooded trails. I sometimes saw a man working with wood and tools there, but never had the nerve to walk up and start a conversation.

David with his goliath harvestman sculpture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, March, 2007
Finally, in March, 2007, less than a month before the Big Bugs were to leave for their next exhibit space, I happened to make eye contact with the man working in the parking lot as I walked past. He introduced himself as David Rogers, the creator of the Big Bugs. We hit it off and had some great conversations over the next couple of weeks. I found out that he was in the process of creating a new Big Bug that would be debuted at the Wildflower Center for a few days before the exhibit closed. This would be an enormous harvestman, or daddy long-legs.

I happened to stop by the Wildflower Center on the day that they installed the new sculpture. At David's request, I photographed him with several workers as they put the finishing touches on the new bug. It was impressive, towering over a human head on its eight spindly legs.

Shortly after that, the Big Bugs were packed up and shipped away. Nothing quite so entertaining has yet replaced them in the various temporary exhibits that occupy the gardens.

There is one more chapter in my acquaintance with the Big Bugs. I recently got a request from a friend to provide photos for an online gallery being produced by the San Antonio newspaper, which was publishing an article in preparation for a new exhibit at their local Botanical Garden. The request was for various species of arthropods, including our biggest examples, such as a tarantula, black witch moth, ox beetle, and giant desert centipede. The purpose of the article? To advertise the arrival of the Big Bugs! Once I realized what the article was about, I also included images of a praying mantis and a wheel bug, two sculpture subjects which I thought were quite outstanding in the collection. After the fun I've had photographing the art, I had no qualms about providing a few photos to advertise their most current exhibit.

I am sure that loads of people will enjoy the Big Bugs during their stay in San Antonio. I might even make a trek down that way and enjoy them once again, before David retires his menagerie from the tour circuit in order to pursue other artistic endeavors.

More Big Bugs

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