DAVIS–When University of California, Davis, forensic entomologist and doctoral student Rebecca O’Flaherty teaches art workshops, she doesn’t bring brushes, palette knives or color shapers.
She doesn’t bring easels or canvas, either.
She brings white copier paper, forceps, and cups filled with non-toxic, water-based paint.
And, oh yes, she brings maggots.
Maggots? O’Flaherty and her students paint with maggots. Live maggots. Maggots from the blowflies that she rears for her forensic research.
With specially designed larval forceps, they dip the squirming larvae in non-toxic, water-based paint, position them on paper, and watch them crawl, creating color trails. Voila! Maggot Art, the educational teaching curriculum she coined and trademarked after launching the program in 2001 at the University of Hawaii.
O’Flaherty teaches Maggot Art to generate interest and respect for an entomological wonder that’s more associated with road kills and goose bumps than art thrills. Since 2001, she has taught thousands of students, ranging from kindergarteners to college students to law enforcement professionals. Her program at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day draws more than 2,000 participants. Thousands of others see her work, “Ancient Offering,” commissioned by the TV show CSI and hanging on the permanent set in Gil Grissom’s office.
“This is an extremely interesting and innovative idea that combines very basic biology with art in a form that people can readily access and understand,” said UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey and her major professor. “It provides an entrée into the biology and development of insects that people can really appreciate and understand. It was a stroke of genius.”
Some art critics compare the abstract lines of Maggot Art to the work of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. Some lines are straight and simplistic, others, curved and crisscrossed. The public can view both styles at her Maggot Art show at the Capital Athletic Club, 1515 8th St., Sacramento, open now through March. The show includes the work of her UC colleagues Brandi Schmitt and Charlotte Wacker, contributing artists.
“I love my work and being able to share my love with so many people has truly been a joy,” said O’Flaherty, who wants to become an entomology professor. “I tend to target young elementary students, second- and third-graders, because I find that at that age, most children are enthusiastic, uninhibited and extremely open to new ideas. They haven’t developed aversions to insects, and we’re able to instill in them an appreciation for and interest in all organisms, no matter how disgusting those organisms may be perceived to be.”
“The beauty of the Maggot Art program,” she said, “is its ability to give hands-on, non-threatening experience with an insect that most people fear or loathe.”
Editor’s note: The opening celebration of the two-month exhibit of Maggot Art at the Capital Athletic Club, 1515 8th St., Sacramento, will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19 and is open to the public. The Maggot Art will be on display through March. The paintings can be viewed any time at the club from January through March. Photos of her work, including the painting commissioned by CSI, are at on the Web.
CONTACT: Kathy Keatley Garvey, (530) 754-6894, kegarvey [at] ucdavis [dot] edu