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Biologist is insect artist on the side

Lee Ann Sporn, a professor at Paul Smith’s College, is pictured Friday, Aug. 2 with her art exhibit “Coming into Being,” currently on display at the NorthWind Fine Arts gallery on Woodruff Street, Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — The magic of metamorphosis has been put in color in the NorthWind Fine Arts Gallery on 11 Woodruff St. The exhibit is titled “Coming into Being.”

Lee Ann Sporn, a professor at Paul Smith’s College and local artist, has long been fascinated by moths, even though they are not her field of study. The lives of various moths found in the Adirondacks are on display in a collection of drawings that can easily be mistaken for paintings, as they look like watercolors.

Sporn likes her art to capture the life of an insect. Each piece contains not simply the animal’s most recognizable form but also other stages such as larva and pupa, as well as its common habitat and food source.

“The challenge for me was creating a composition from all sorts of images,” Sporn said.

Through various photographs, she has created moths that could be whizzing past the reader’s head right now: the rosy maple, sundew dart and luna moths, to name a few. Sporn used photographs, as their colors fade quickly when they are caught and preserved.

“Coming Into Being” is a collection of colored pencil drawings and abstract oil paintings by Lee Ann Sporn at the North Wind Fine Art Gallery, 11 Woodruff St., Saranac Lake. (Image provided)

Sporn had two main sources of inspiration. One was her colleague Janet Mihuc, who studies moths at Paul Smith’s.

In an email to the Enterprise, Mihuc wrote that she is in her fourth year of cataloguing the moth species present on the college campus and its Visitor Interpretive Center.

“I sample moths in different habitats throughout the summer because there is a constant turnover of moth species from April to October,” Mihuc wrote.

Already she has collected more than 400 moth species in those areas. She wrote that she was thankful and appreciative that Sporn was inspired by her.

“I was thrilled that she let me suggest some of the species that were the subjects of her work,” Mihuc wrote. “Her talents made it possible to showcase the beauty of these species and hopefully spark curiosity about their life histories.”

Moths are fascinating creatures to Mihuc and Sporn.

“Most people think of moths as dull brown insects but there is tremendous diversity in their patterns and colors,” Mihuc wrote. “Moths don’t live but a matter of days or weeks as adults so there is a constant turnover of species present as adults throughout the summer here.”

Sporn’s other inspiration was Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th-century German-born naturalist and scientific illustrator who observed the connection between moths and caterpillars. Previously, the connection had not been well understood.

“At that point in history that was a huge interest to scientists,” Sporn said.

Merian would collect the larva and raise them to see what happened. We now know that cocoons are the intermediary stage in a moth’s life cycle. These changes, known as metamorphosis, fascinates Sporn, and she has an abstract piece of art that attempts to capture what goes on in a cocoon.

Sporn explained that once inside the cocoon, the moth liquefies and is essentially rebuilt into the flying adult moth.

The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 2.