- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The large-scale mural, spearheaded by two faculty members/artists in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, and an artist/retired lecturer in the Department of Design, will be unveiled at an invitational celebration and unveiling on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Napa winery.
That's when “creators, artists, students, and volunteers will see the results of their hard, fun, and educational work creating the incredibly detailed tile mosaic mural depicting The Secret Life of Vineyards,” announced Jesse Galvan, director of hospitality for Matthiasson Wines. Special guests expected to attend include UC Davis Chancellor Gary May.
The project, fusing art with science, showcases the diversity of life in an organic vineyard ecosystem. Designing and directing the project were:
- Distinguished professor Diane Ullman of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, who researches insect/virus/plant interactions and insect-transmitted plant pathogens
- Assistant professor Emily Meineke, an urban landscape entomologist, Department of Entomology and Nematology, who studies plant-herbivore relationships
- Professional graphic designer and retired lecturer Gale Okumura of the Department of Design, known for her design solutions in visual communications.
Said Ullman: “This project allowed students in ENT 001 to learn the intricacies of the ecosystem in organic vineyards, and the importance of insects within it. Each student conducted their own research, learned design principles, and designed and created a piece of the mural. Along the way, they learned to collaborate with their classmates and volunteers from the community to produce a large scale, public artwork that communicates the ecology of the vineyard environment.”
“Students had the opportunity to hear about integrated pest management from Steve Matthiasson, and to consider the role of insects as pests and as natural enemies, in the context of all the other life in the vineyard,” Ullman said. “What a great experience! Emily Meineke and I are incredibly grateful to our partner in design and fabrication of the mural, Gale Okumura, a retired lecturer from the Department of Design, and the many community members and volunteers who helped make this mural possible. The installation is unusual in that the mural is mounted inside a frame that is attached to wall, rather than being attached directly to the wall. The engineering and building of this system, as well as the installation, was done by artist Amanda Larson of Half Moon Bay. Amanda has Davis connections as she grew up here and has a master's degree from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. We were delighted to be given this opportunity by the Matthiassons. The mural really celebrates their commitment to biodiversity and sustainability in viticulture.”
Said Meineke: "This visual representation aims to raise awareness of a world that often goes unnoticed but is essential for maintaining the overall health of these vibrant ecosystems."
The mural, installed in June and July on an outer wall of the Matthiasson Winery Building and Tasting Area, measures 10 feet wide by six feet in height, and weighs an estimated 600 to 800 pounds. The crew packed the assembled panels "with lots of padding in an electric van from UC Davis Fleet Services and transported them to the Matthiasson Winery," Ullman said. "Each of the four panels weighed between 125 and 200 pounds."
The insects on the mural range from beneficial insects to notorious pests. They include lady beetles that feast on aphids, and the glassy-winged sharpshooters that feed on plant fluids.
The directors created a PowerPoint detailing the progression of the art work and the artists' descriptions. They include:
Harrison Ford Spider. Nicholas Nguyen a civil engineering major, depicted the Harrison Ford spider, Calponia harrisonfordi, describedby arachnologist Norman Platnick of the American Museum of Natural History in 1993. “In real life, the spider is only around 5 millimeters and much of its biology and physiology is unknown, though it's thought to eat other spiders,” Nguyen wrote. “For the design, I incorporated Indiana Jones' hat as an homage to one of Harrison Ford's most well-known roles. The hat is subdued under the roots as if a farmhand accidentally left it there after a break out of the sun or if Indy transformed into the spider of his actor's namesake.”
“C. harrisonfordi is the quintessential example of legacy,” Nguyen added. “The spider legacy of an archaeologist, blade runner, space smuggler and also environmentalist, activist, actor and ultimately hero, Harrison Ford.”
American Dog Tick. Max Samuelsen, then a fourth-year biopsychology major with a “love for nature and the outdoors,” created the American dog tick, Dermacentor occidentalis. This arachnid significantly impacts vineyard ecosystem balance, serving as a food source for certain species, and indirectly aiding in pest control by feeding on and transmitting diseases to certain pest species, such as rodents. For humans, it is a vector for diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and a research subject for understanding vector-borne diseases.”
“The design consists of the tick within magnifying glass, with the background representing the fur of the bobcat to which it is attached,” Samuelsen explained. “The ticks are usually 3 mm to 15 mm and are difficult to see with the naked eye. The tiles, stretching from the bobcat to the tick, gracefully guide one's gaze, revealing that this tick is feeding on the bobcat. This artwork showcases the interactions among wildlife in the vineyard. The mural provides a captivating visual journey vividly capturing the enchanting beauty and interdependence of the vineyard ecosystem.”
“I wanted to represent the insect scavenging for a waxworm,” Montes related. “I wanted to show that this insect appears aggressive, but also to grant visual diversity within the insect activity throughout the mural. Although many would think that the potato bug is big, clunky, and serves no purpose other than to scare people, researching the insect gave me much more insight on the importance this insect has in the environment, especially in vineyards.”
Predator Mites. Fourth-year entomology major Amberly Hackmann said she was assigned predator mites, Typhlodromus pyri.She described the species as “a generalist predatory mite species native to several major fruit growing regions of the world including North America, Europe, and New Zealand. It is a commonly used biological control agent in orchards for the management of other pest mite species that feed on the leaves and alter the crop quality. I created this ceramic clay art piece of T. pyri enjoying the spoils of its latest conquest, a red spider mite who had been feeding on a cabernet leaf. Predatory mitesare translucent to pale yellow in color until they take their first meal. I painted the red swirl on the abdomen of the predatory mite to indicate the mite taking on the color of its prey.”
Western Flower Thrips. Kelly Amado's project focused the western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis, which Professor Ullman researches. “I am a person who doesn't really know much about insects or do many arts or crafts,” Amado wrote. “I have no experience with how to paint, draw or make anything creative, but I always try my best to be creative…This insect is important because they are important pests that damage crops by feeding on the plant and laying eggs on it. They also transmit pathogenic viruses to some plant species. The design I am presenting is a grape cluster with a western flower thrips on top. I used the grape cluster mold to form the shape of the grapes. After creating the grape cluster, I started defining the grapes by adding little balls of clay. I used several techniques to build the insect and show the fringed wings that are characteristic. It is important to identify these insects and know their place in the environment as early in the season as possible in order to prevent too much damage.”
Virginia Creeper Leafhopper. Psychology major Kayla Cabanas depicted the Virginia creeper leafhopper, Erythroneura ziczac. “This species of leafhopper is an agricultural pest that is found in vineyards, like the vineyard that this mural is displayed in,” Cabanas wrote. “In vineyards, E. ziczac feeds on the leaves of grapevines, causing damage that can lead to loss of product and economic loss. E. ziczac is of great concern to those tending the vineyard, as chemical and biological control methods are often necessary to prevent leafhopper damage.”
“For this mural, I designed a piece that communicated the leaf damage that E. ziczac causes, as well as their small size,” Cabanas explained. “My piece features the stippling and discoloration of E. ziczac damage on a leaf, as well as E. ziczac in the lens of a magnifying glass. E. ziczac is small to the naked eye, but taking a closer look reveals its beautiful patterns and colors. My piece was created using clay and underglazes of various colors, with a clear glaze covering it. Participating in this project has been a memorable part of my college experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to combine insects and art, which are two of my favorite things.
"In my design," Zhou explained, "I aimed to depict the harmonious interaction between C. californica and California buckwheat in wine yield, representing their interdependence and the beauty of their collaboration. The adjacent human is releasing the beetle to the buckwheat, representing the excellent relationship between humans and the California lady beetle. I aim to inspire people to contemplate the profound connections and interdependencies within ecosystems. The collaboration between C. california, humans, and California buckwheat serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and interconnectedness of all living beings. By celebrating the beauty of this symbiotic relationship, we can foster a deeper appreciation for nature's intricate tapestries."
The Entomology 001 Professors
Diane Ullman. Ullman joined the UC Davis faculty in 1991. She launched the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program in September 2006; chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology from 2004-2005; and served as an associate dean for undergraduate academic programs for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from 2005 to 2014.
A Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014) and the Entomological Society of America (2011), Ullman was named the 2014 recipient of the ESA National Excellence in Teaching Award. She received the UC Davis Academic Senate's 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award for undergraduate teaching.
Emily Meineke. Meineke, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2020, was recently named an Early Career Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and one of 12 UC Davis recipients of the prestigious Hellman Fellowships, an annual program supporting the research of early-career faculty. She was among the scholars and artists who helped spearhead the Harvard Museum of Natural History's “In Search of Thoreau's Flowers: An Exploration of Change and Loss," hailed as an examination of the natural world and climate change at the intersections of science, art and history. Meineke helped launch the project in 2017 when she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University Herbaria. The 648 plant specimens that Henry David Thoreau donated to the museum form the foundation of the exhibit, which opened to the public in May of 2022.
The Matthiasson Winery
Steve Matthiasson and Jill Klein Matthiasson, owners of Matthiasson Winery, 3175 Dry Creek Road, are active in the sustainable agriculture and local food movement. The winery is a James Beard Award six-time nominee and was named "Winemaker of the Year" by the San Francisco Chronicle and Food & Wine Magazine. For information on Matthiasson Winery, access the website at https://www.matthiasson.com.