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Article updated: 6/7/2013 1:04 PM

Moving Picture: Big bugs invade Morton Arboretum

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When David Rogers talks about having ants around the house, he's talking really, really big ants.

The veteran artist is displaying a dozen much-larger-than-life sculptures of ants and other insects -- some more than 10 feet tall -- through Sept. 8 at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. He created each sculpture using woods and other natural materials supported by metal armatures.

His display features three ants marching down an arboretum hillside along with, among others, a praying mantis, damsel fly, dragonfly, assassin bug, lady bug, grasshopper and two types of spiders and their webs -- all on a huge scale. The ants, for example, are 25 feet long and weigh about 700 pounds each. Visitors checking out the praying mantis will have to crane their necks: it's roughly 20 feet tall.

Rogers began his career making rustic furniture and garden accessories out of tree branches and saplings and by the early 1990s had begun sculpting dinosaurs out of the same material. It was around then he was asked to create a unique exhibition for the Dallas Arboretum and, after giving it some thought, decided to tackle the world of insects.

"I started thinking about subject matter, and it came to me that the insect world is kind of like the hidden gardeners," Rogers said. "I thought it would be interesting to do different members of the insect kingdom, but do it on this dinosaur scale. That was the original concept of Big Bugs."

The show debuted in 1994 in Dallas and was an immediate hit. Since then, it has toured the country, first appearing at the Morton Arboretum in 2008 and now making a return engagement.

Rogers says he uses a variety of woods to create his artwork, most of which he collects from trees that have fallen or died in the forest. He uses both hand tools and power tools, including a chain saw, to sculpt hardwoods such as black walnut and red cedar, into their final shapes.

The three ant sculptures are slightly different, he says, because he used live willow saplings that were malleable to bend into the proper shapes.

"When you're standing in the shadow of these giant sculptures, you really get a feel for what it's like to be a bug," said Mary Samersyke, the arboretum's manager of interpretation. "This exhibit helps you see bugs in a new way ..."

With his insect exhibition now in its 20th year, the artist says he's most proud he's been able to contribute to the mission statement common among most arboretums and botanical gardens around the country: to help educate visitors and make us all more aware of the natural world around us.

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