In the first half of the last century, a German blacksmith named Alfred Keller began crafting some of the most surrealistic, alien-seeming sculptures the world had ever seen -- delicate works which took months to complete. These incredible creations, meticulous in detail, rivaled even the most imaginative pieces from contemporary artists -- but they weren't inspired by some absinth-induced vision or fit of madness. Indeed, Keller's muse was nature itself -- and these bugs are quite real. As an employee of Berlin's Natural History Museum, Keller was charged with creating lifelike models of insects to be placed on display -- a challenge he took very, very seriously. The master artisan worked tirelessly fashioning his creepy, crawly creations from common materials, producing breathtaking works that did incredible justice to the real thing.
A recent exposé on Keller, which appeared in Nature, offers insight into the stunning sculptures:
From 1930 until his early death he was employed by the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History), painstakingly laboring over his recreations of insects and their larvae. Each took a year to complete. Keller worked first in plasticine, from which he cast a model in plaster. This plaster reference model he then recast in papier maché. Some details he added, cast in wax, with wings and bristles in celluloid and galalith (an early plastic material used in jewelery). Finally he colored the surfaces, sometimes with additional gilding. The levels of patience and manual control Keller exercised were incredible. His fly, for example, boasts 2,653 bristles.
Unfortunately, many of Keller's models were destroyed during World War II, but perhaps his most unusual-looking model survives -- the sculpture of a Brazilian treehopper seen above. The artist's fascination with this incredible insect is entirely understandable when you see the real thing.
Nature is clearly not afraid of taking a turn for the weird.
As an artisan of sorts in its own right, the natural world has produced some bizarre forms that even Dali couldn't have dreamed up -- and perhaps the strangest can be seen in the Membracids family of insects, to which Brazilian treehopper belongs.
These bugs, a close cousin of cicadas, are known for their unusual shapes. While the purpose of their odd shapes is not yet fully understood, biologists have theorized that they serve to make the insect appear difficult to eat for any would-be predator looking for an easy meal. Apparently, art traditionalists aren't the only ones to find such abstract designs hard to swallow.
So, while some artists, like Keller, seem very much ahead of their time -- the incredible diversity of life on this planet yet again proves that, when it comes to surrealistic creations, nature's been there, done that.