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Entomologist shows his creative side with bronze stick insects

stick insects matan shelomiW

These bronze stick insects are part of Matan Shelomi's display at the UC Davis Craft Center Gallery. Kathy Keatley Garvey/Courtesy photo

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From page A7 | January 02, 2014 |

Matan Shelomi, a doctoral candidate in entomology at UC Davis, will show off the creative and artistic side of his career at a solo exhibition, “Flat Fusion Five,” from Jan. 6 through Feb. 7 at the UCD Craft Center Gallery.

The exhibition includes bronze stick insects and a series of digital prints of colorful cockroaches.

The opening reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, and Shelomi will be present to answer questions. The gallery is in the South Silo building on the UCD campus.

Shelomi, who studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has volunteered at the Craft Center since his graduate school enrollment at UC Davis in the fall of 2009. He has taken many of the evening and weekend classes offered there, from flame-working to wood-turning to bookbinding.

The most popular items are his bronze stick insects. Shelomi’s dissertation is on the digestive physiology of stick insects (Phasmatodea), for which he uses the many phasmids reared at the Bohart Museum for research and for public display.

How does he make the bronze replicas?

When a stick insect dies (of natural causes), Shelomi takes the hard exoskeleton to the Craft Center, mounts it with wax channels called “sprues,” and embeds it in plaster. He then heats the combination in a kiln until all organic matter, including the insect, is burned away, leaving a plaster mold with a cavity in the shape of a stick insect.

Shelomi then pours the molten metal, such as bronze or pewter, into the mold using a spin-caster machine. Each mold can be used only once, but the result is a metal copy of the insect with most of the details, from the spines to the delicate mouthparts, fully preserved.

The techniques to do this are taught in the lost wax casting class at the Craft Center.

Another display in the exhibition is a series of digital prints of colorful cockroaches, from pinks to greens to blues. These were made by injecting some of the feeder cockroaches used in the Bohart Museum with histological dyes, a process known as “vital staining” that played a big role in Shelomi’s dissertation research. Each stain colors different tissues of the insect with different intensities, and can be used to identify anatomical features.

Other pieces include relief prints of cicadas, ceramic ants and an oil painting of a carabid beetle, as well as several works that are not inspired by entomology but showcase “the variety of media and materials one can work with at the Craft Center,” Shelomi said.

Some of the pieces at Shelomi’s solo exhibition will be available for purchase after the show. For more information, contact him at mshelomi@ucdavis.edu.

Shelomi, active in entomological circles, received the 2013 John Henry Comstock Award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America and is a member of the UCD debate team that won the national 2013 ESA Student Debate championship. He regularly answers entomological questions on Quora.

The Craft Center, which offers more than 90 classes each quarter, is open on Thursdays from 12:30 to 10 p.m., Fridays from 12:30 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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Kathy Keatley Garvey

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