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One Tank Trip: Beetle Mania: The Art of Joan Danziger

READING, Pa. - We often consider them pests and try to find ways to get rid of them, but artist Joan Danzinger has a different approach. She took the beetle and brought out its beauty.

"I hope it sort of makes them rethink what a bug is," said Scott Schweigert, the Reading Public Museum's curator of art.

Upon closer inspection, you'll see what Danzinger sees. More than 50 beetles are crawling the walls at the Reading Public Museum.

Beetle Mania, an invasion of a different kind, made out of wire, glass and some celluclay, which is like paper mache. She's made 125.

"She wanted it installed as if they were crawling up the walls. which adds the element of realism to it," Schweigert said. "The scale is meant to sort of surprise you, stop you in your tracks. Clearly, they are much bigger than actual beetles are, and that's part of the fun of seeing this exhibit."

It's sponsored by Erlich which is known for pest control.

"And the artist really loved that, as well. She saw the humor there," Schweigert said.

She sees beetles as they are in nature, iridescent and jewel-like. They are natural survivors. Danzinger was first inspired by the book "Living Jewels," and the more she learned about beetles, the more she understood why, in the past, they had been so revered.

The idea of immortality and rebirth in connection with beetles goes all the way back to ancient civilization. A scarab beetle made out of beads is a mummy dressing that's on display. It's from the same time period as the museum's own mummy Nefrina.

Beetle Mania allowed the museum to pull from its permanent collection, cultural specimens you might not otherwise see on display. A headdress and headband from the Amazon specifically Papua New Guinea are made out of beetle bodies, using the wings.

"Joan actually, when she visited, she said to me, "Where do I get one of these?" and I said, 'I don't know. This has been in our collection since the 1960s,'" Schweigert recalled.

The museum's founder, Levi Mengel, was a butterfly collector gathering lots of other insects along the way. 

"The scale of some of these is extraordinary, the size of a human hand," Schweigert said. "They are really quite big."

Bold and beautiful, if you look beyond the usual.

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