WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue University College of Agriculture honored the legacy of one of the oldest entomology programs in the nation with the April 8 unveiling of a bronze sculpture depicting three individuals who played a major role in promoting the study of insects and the environment.
Tom Turpin, entomology professor and member of the project organizing committee, said the sculpture is intended to motivate viewers to learn more about their natural surroundings. He said he began to look into the idea five years ago as a way to recognize the contributions of pioneering scientists.
“We’re always looking for ways to promote entomology,” Turpin said. “Entomologists are important to everyone. They help combat insect-vectored diseases and work to reduce insect damage to crops and possessions. I realized I had never seen a statue of an entomologist, even though we worked to save the world from malaria. In the United States, there’s a statue of a boll weevil and seagulls because they ate the Mormon crickets, but no entomologists.”
Created by artist Susie Chisholm of Savannah, Ga., the sculpture of three individuals observing a tiger swallowtail butterfly represents one of the primary missions of a land grant university - providing education to the general public through the Extension service.
The individuals portrayed in the sculpture are now frozen in time at the age each would have been in 1924, when the science of entomology was just beginning to capture public attention.
The standing figure is J.J. Davis, who served as head of the Purdue Department of Entomology from 1920 to 1956. He inaugurated a four-year pest control curriculum in 1946, one of the first programs of its kind in the country. He believed entomologists should share the pleasure of scientific discovery with the general public. He did this through humor, even publishing the “The Entomologists’ Jokebook” in 1937.
The young boy depicts John V. Osmun who became head of the Department of Entomology in 1956, when Davis retired. Osmun was known for his interest in the success of the entomology students and maintained contact with them long after they left Purdue.
Rachel Carson is the young woman holding the swallowtail butterfly. She was a marine biologist, conservationist and pioneering nature writer in the 1950s. Carson’s environmental concerns led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 under President Nixon. Her last book The Sense of Wonder (1965) was based on her belief that “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder … he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
The sculpture includes small details, such as insects, to encourage onlookers to explore it for hidden surprises. It’s meant to be an interactive display and touching is encouraged.
“It’s designed to reflect the way education works - to share when you have the opportunity, promoting a sense of wonder,” Turpin said.