The Entomologist statue in front of the Agricultural Administration building at Purdue
The Entomologist statue (Photo credit: John Obermeyer)

Around the world, statues of people are commonplace. Such renderings often depict famous people. Politicians, including U.S. presidents, governors, and legislators are frequently immortalized in this way. So are kings, queens, military heroes, famous athletes and show biz personalities. A limited number of business people and even some medical doctors and nurses end up frozen in time as statues.

Statues that depict entomologists are rare, but a few do exist. There are two statues of Jean-Henri Fabre in France. Fabre was a famous French entomologist who wrote thousands of pages describing the lives of insects that he observed on the acreage where he lived.

There are many statues, memorials, and monuments strewn around the world that recognize Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist. Two of his statues are in Chicago. Linnaeus is credited with starting the system of binominal nomenclature – giving the genus and species names to plants and animals. Although he also named many insects, he is not generally thought of as an entomologist. Linnaeus did think of Domenico Cirillo of Italy as an entomologist, and there is a statue of Cirillo in Naples.

There is a statue of Vladimir Nabokov in Montreux, Switzerland. Most people know of Nabokov as the author of “Lolita.” But Nabokov practiced some entomology as an avocation when he wasn’t busy writing.

I am not aware of a single statue in the U.S. depicting a person because of his or her achievements as an entomologist. There are a couple of statues related to insects. In Enterprise, Alabama, there is a statue of that infamous insect pest of cotton called the boll weevil. The statue was erected in appreciation of the fact that the destructive pest caused the farmers of the region to diversify the crops they grew, thus saving the agricultural industry of the area. In Salt Lake City, Utah, a monument depicts two seagulls. That monument pays homage to seagulls that descended on the area back in the mid-1800s, and consumed the Mormon crickets that were destroying crops.

Purdue has a number of statues scattered around campus. There is one of Neil Armstrong, the Purdue graduate who was the first man on the moon. A statue of Amelia Earhart, the famed pioneer aviator, is outside the residence hall that bears her name. We also have a statue of John Wooden, a Purdue All-American basketball player. The statue of Wooden is appropriately located near Mackey Arena, the current home of the Purdue basketball team. There is a statue of John Purdue, the industrialist for whom Purdue is named. The bronze likeness of Purdue’s namesake sits on a bench, cane in hand, near a sidewalk south of his burial site on campus.

 Purdue has added a new sculpture called “The Entomologist.” Susie Chisholm of Savannah, Georgia, created this three-person sculpture. The individuals are J.J. Davis (the standing figure), John Osmun (the boy), and Rachel Carson (holding a butterfly), and are depicted at the age they would have been had they met on that day in 1924. 

J.J. Davis was the second department head of the entomology department at Purdue. He was active in professional scientific communities, and served as the elected president of two major national entomological societies during his career. At Purdue, he founded the Pest Management Conference that has been held annually for 81 years.

John Osmun served in the military as an entomologist, and came to Purdue from a job in industry. He succeeded Davis as entomology department head. After stepping down as department head, Osmun went to Washington D.C. and worked in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, where he was involved in programs associated with pesticide applicator training. Before retiring, he returned to Purdue and served as the first leader of the Purdue Pesticide Programs.

Rachel Carson began her career as a writer for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. Her book “Silent Spring” brought environmental concerns to the attention of the general public, and led to the creation of the EPA. Her last book, “The Sense of Wonder,” aimed to get children interested in nature through mentoring.

The newest Purdue sculpture depicts one of the three founding missions of a land grant university – that of outreach to the general public. The outreach activity featured is learning about butterflies. Appropriate activity for a sculpture called “The Entomologist,” isn’t it?

Subscribe to the On Six Legs podcast.