A Beetle Goes to London

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

In June I received an e-mail from Jasmina Cibic, a Slovenian artist. I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but after some e-mail discussions with her, I decided to get on board. What she had proposed was part of a very interesting and unique project.

Her request of me was to contribute an illustration of an endangered beetle with a very unfortunate scientific name: Anophthalmus hitleri. She had been in touch with a number of other illustrators and she was asking us to draw our interpretation of this beetle without doing any research on it. Our drawings were to be based on our knowledge of beetles, scientific nomenclature, whatever information she provided and nothing else.

Below is an excerpt from Jasmina's initial e-mail:
"I am a London based artist and I am currently developing a new project for the European Capital of Culture in Maribor, Slovenia. The project is based on the story of discovery of an endemic beetle living in the northern part of Slovenia, which is in danger of becoming extinct solely because of its name.

I am looking for scientific illustrators from various parts of the world to collaborate on the project. It is a very complex installation, comprising of a film work and crystal models of zoological vitrines and a collection of drawings of the mentioned endemic beetle by various scientific illustrators from around the world. . . . The work would be exhibited within the installation and featured in the cataloge of the project that will be published by the public gallery Skuc gallery Ljubljana, Slovenia.

In 1933 Vladimir Kodrič happened upon a beetle in one of Slovenia's caves around Celje, which he thought might represent a new species. In 1937 the entomologist Oscar Scheibel confirmed this. As a Hitler sympathizer, Scheibel named the insect Anophthalmus hitleri.

A name of an organism can only be changed in extreme circumstances that have to do with the development of knowledge. Politically sensitive names cannot be amended, therefore all attempts to rename the beetle have been unsuccessful.

Because of the politically embarrassing name this beetle has been throughout its known existence held semi-secretive and even when it was featured on a Yugoslavian stamp in 1984, its Latin name was withheld. More recently, neo-Nazis in Slovenia have destroyed a part of its habitat, whilst collecting the specimens, after an article about its existence was published by the National Geographic in 2006."

So from this, all I knew was that it was a blind (Anophthalmus = without eyes) cave beetle. For my illustration, I used a reference photo of one of our local beetles, slimmed it down, made it less spiky and tried to make it look eyeless. This is the result:

I shipped the illustration to London as Jasmina requested and once I knew it had arrived, I looked up the actual beetle on the web. I found a good photo of a preserved specimen on Flickr:
Anophthalmus hitleri Scheibel, 1937
"My" beetle is more robust than the real thing, but somewhat surprisingly, I wasn't all that far off. I'm curious to see what other illustrators created. Jasmina will send a catalog of the exhibit ("Situation: Anophthalmus hitleri") when it's ready. There's some information about the installation on-line. It opens in November.

I scanned a couple of stages of my illustration. Here's an animated GIF of it:
The drawing is approximately 5.5" x 6.5" on an 8" x 11" piece of white scratchboard.


Janet September 6, 2012 at 8:01 AM  

This is very cool, Ann. Thank you for participating in a fascinating international story. So many species disappear every day that no one notices. Not this beetle. At least it's being celebrated before it leaves this earth.

Anne September 18, 2012 at 5:42 PM  

That is SO interesting, Ann! I've always been interested in insects (my Dad had a field guide from his college days at Mizzou, which we referred to as "The Bug Book" and it was much used throughout my growing-up)...unfortunately, it was in a plastic tub that was in the fire, and although it wasn't burned, the tub was filled with water from the firemen's hoses. The book was just too water-damaged to save, but I did manage to dry the cover and have it framed. It would be interesting to see if this beetle was cataloged there...(obviously not under that name, as it was pre-war) ~ Very cool!

AnnRan November 11, 2012 at 1:23 PM  

There's a video on this page:


It's in Slovene, but you can still get an idea of what the exhibit looks like. In the first part of the video (next to the photo of Hitler), you can see my illustration in the lower left.

- - - All art and images ©Ann Ranlett, unless otherwise credited. All rights reserved. - - -
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