Abraham Lincoln rendered in insects body parts.

Bug Art Of John Hampson

Field review by the editors.

St. Johnsbury, Vermont

A five minute drive west on Highway 2 -- past the big Maple Syrup Can -- takes you into downtown St. Johnsbury. Here you'll find the Fairbanks Museum, a fun Victorian era throwback of stuffed dead animals and of labeled things in jars and glass cases. Here, too, are the works of the Northeast Kingdom's other animal artist, John Hampson.

We asked the woman at the busy ticket counter, tactfully, where the "insect portraits" were. She seemed to mentally process our words for a moment. "Oh. You mean BUG ART? Second floor, between the samurai warrior and the Indian pots."

John Hampson was not beloved like Stephen Huneck. His medium was bugs. Using pins and glue, he painstakingly arranged dead bugs and bug body parts -- butterflies, moths, beetles -- into patterns and pictures that could be hung on a wall.

American Flag rendered in insect body parts.

Each of his works used between 6,000 and 13,000 bugs and took 3-4 years to complete. His designs ranged from a radiant star to a rippling American flag, from portraits of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and World War I general John Pershing, to one celebrating his own 50th birthday.

Hampson created his bug art in Newark, New Jersey -- no rolling hillside of wildflowers, no parking lot, no gift shop. He liked to tinker with machinery and inventions, and once worked for Thomas Edison, designing an early phonograph. But the whole bug art thing -- he apparently kept a low profile and didn't spend a single day in the nuthouse. When he died -- unlike Huneck, he didn't come back -- his daughter searched the country for a museum that would exhibit his art. The Fairbanks Museum was the only taker, which is how the entire collection ended up up here.

The portraits are preserved behind glass, protected from humidity and bright light. Our photos don't really capture the delicate interweaving of wings and metallic sheen of beetle carapace. You must see for yourself.

George Washington made from dead bugs.

John Hampson had the misfortune of being born a hundred years too soon. If he had lived in the early 21st century, rather than in the early 20th, he might have built his own chapel on a "Bug Mountain" and ended up respected and beloved like Mr. Whimsical Dog Art down the road.

The Dog Chapel and Bug Art offer an instructive lesson in the fickleness of fame and timing, and we urge a visit to both. We also urge the Fairbanks Museum, opened in 1891, to use the money from our admission tickets to buy more light bulbs.

Bug Art Of John Hampson

Fairbanks Museum

Address:
1302 Main St., St. Johnsbury, VT
Directions:
Downtown, in The Fairbanks Museum. I-91 to exit 20 (US 5/Railroad St.). US 5 north. Take the first left (Main St.) and proceed up the hill, through the stop sign, and two blocks beyond. The Museum will be on the right.
Hours:
M-Sa 9 am to 5 pm. Su 1 pm - 5 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
802-748-2372
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Nearby Offbeat Places

The Dog ChapelThe Dog Chapel, St. Johnsbury, VT - 2 mi.
The Puking PigThe Puking Pig, Lyndon Center, VT - 8 mi.
Cheese Factory TourCheese Factory Tour, Cabot, VT - 15 mi.
In the region:
Old Man of the Mountain Profiler Plaza, Franconia, NH - 25 mi.

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June 24, 2018

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