In the fall of 1990, David Rogers was staying at a cousin’s farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains when he spotted a maple sapling bent from an ice storm the previous winter.
“There was something about the curvature and posture of this particularly ravaged tree—a backbone to a large beast, perhaps—that suggested a new life for the tree,” he later said.
Rogers transformed it into the spine of a wooden dinosaur—and began making other wooden creatures. His “Big Bugs,” large wooden sculptures of insects, debuted at the Dallas Arboretum in the summer of 1994. Over the years, Rogers has created some 40 bugs, with two sets of sculptures traveling the country in exhibitions, and others retired.
Through Oct. 3, “Big Bugs” is at Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which is operated by The Preservation Society of Newport County. (Admission is included in regular admission.) Visitors are greeted by an 18-foot-long praying mantis that stands in front of the ticket office. A 10-foot-long damselfly perches over the fish pond. A 10-foot-tall daddy long legs stands in the cutting garden.
These and the assassin bug, bees, hummingbirds and spider elsewhere in the garden provide Green Animals an occasion to ask: ”Why should pollinators matter to you? We cannot live without them! … Wild flowering plants depend on these native bees, flies, butterflies, moths, bats, birds and other animals to reproduce.”
Rogers was born in 1960 and grew up on Long Island, New York, where he still lives. He took classes in ceramics, glassblowing, and woodworking, then spent several years working for a wooden sailboat maker and a cabinetmaker. He also found work restoring wood in Victorian homes. Inspired by a man who built rustic furniture, at age 25, Rogers began making his own wooden furniture and garden sculptures.
Rogers sculpts his creatures from “fallen trees, selectively harvested green saplings branches and other sustainable forest materials,” the Preservation Society writes.
He roughs out the shapes with a chainsaw. Then builds the insects over a wood and steel armature, that holds the pieces together during the process. He bends, molds and shapes the wood. Black locust becomes a praying mantis, grasshopper, and bees; eastern red cedar turns into a dragonfly; golden willow becomes dragonfly wings, a spider web, a bee hive and parts of ants. The legs of the ants, daddy long legs and assassin bug are built around skeletons of steel.
“When I go out into the forest I am looking for shapes, colors, and textures,” Rogers writes. He collects “fallen or dead limbs, branches, twigs, and trunks,” wood in which he sees the shapes of creatures. “The inherent uniqueness of these materials, their different shapes, colors, and textures, provide these sculptures with character, definition, and a sense of motion.”
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