- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Maggot Art. Yes, you read that right. Maggot Art.
It's a traditional and popular part of the Department of Entomology and Nematology's many activities at Picnic Day. This year the UC Davis Picnic Day is Saturday, April 12, and the Briggs Hall events take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Maggot Art is especially for children, but anyone can participate. You grab a special pair of forceps, pick up a maggot, dip it into non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl around on white paper. Voila! Maggot Art. Suitable for framing!
Rebecca O'Flaherty, former entomology doctoral candidate at UC Davis, coined and trademarked the term in 2001 while a student at the University of Hawaii. She was organizing a community outreach program and seeking ways to teach youngsters about insects. Not to hate them. Not to fear them. To respect them and learn about them.
Maggot Art was the way. Her way. It worked.
"I love my work and being able to share my love with so many people has truly been a joy," she told us in an interview back in 2007. "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."
Some adults find maggots revolting, she acknowledged. "A few parents have pulled their children away with a 'Eeew!' and 'Don't touch that!'"
Since 2001, O'Flaherty has taught thousands of students, ranging from kindergarteners to college students to law enforcement professionals. She even showcased her own Maggot Art at a 2007 art show in the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento. Some art critics compared her work to that of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
While at UC Davis, O'Flaherty studied with major professor/forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey. Although she no longer participates in Picnic Day's Maggot Art, her art continues.
UC Davis entomology undergraduate and graduate students now guide little hands in creating art that is like no other.
Some youngsters are concerned about the welfare of the maggots (no maggots are harmed in the making of the paintings) and a few ask to take the maggots home.
Just the art work goes home, thank you. No maggots, please.