Abraham Lincoln rendered in insects body parts.

Bug Art Of John Hampson

Field review by the editors.

St. Johnsbury, Vermont

A 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 most unusual 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's 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 did not create his bug art in the rolling hillsides of Vermont. He did it in Newark, New Jersey. He liked to tinker with machinery and inventions, and once worked for Thomas Edison, designing an early phonograph. As for the whole bug art thing -- he apparently kept a low profile. When he died his daughter searched the entire 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 -- or most light, actually; the interior of the museum is very dim. 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. Had he lived in the early 21st century, rather than in the early 20th, he might have ended up respected and beloved in his lifetime. But he didn't

Bug Art offers an instructive lesson in the fickleness of fame and timing. We urge everyone to visit. 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

1302 Main St., St. Johnsbury, VT
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.
M-Sa 9 am to 5 pm. Su 1 pm - 5 pm. (Call to verify)
RA Rates:
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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.
Propane Tank SculpturesPropane Tank Sculptures, Lyndonville, VT - 7 mi.
In the region:
Chip's Sculpture Garden, Bradford, VT - 31 mi.

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October 15, 2019

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