For Longmont resident Shelby Walton, the artist behind the whimsical and offbeat creations known as Curioddities, inspiration came from a childhood fascination with insects and a passion for preserving the peculiar.
With a unique blend of insect taxidermy and miniature crafting, Walton transforms lifeless insects into captivating characters, placing them in humorous and relatable human scenarios.
“I was always a weird kid,” Walton chuckled. “I would go outside by myself and just take a Tupperware outside, lift up rocks, collect bugs, put them in the Tupperware, and just kind of look at them while they were there. And then they would eventually die. And then I would take the Tupperware outside and dump it out. And I’d start all over again.”
This childhood curiosity and love for the insect world laid the foundation for Walton’s artistic future. But it wasn’t until Walton attended a school in a wooded area that their artistic interests began to flourish.
“I started collecting a bunch of plants, a lot of dead bugs and just keeping everything that I found in this little journal,” Walton said. “By the end of it, I had a journal full of pressed plants and pressed dead dragonflies and stuff. And I was like, I want to do something with this.”
At first, Walton experimented with resin, incorporating pressed plants into jewelry. But a pivotal moment came when they encountered an artist creating coasters with bees that had died of natural causes.
And so began Walton’s quest to find dead insects for their art, which eventually led them to the shores of South Carolina where they used to live and found a treasure trove of washed-up bugs amongst all kinds of strange detritus.
“I’ve got quite a sense of humor,” Walton said. “So, I was like, ‘how do I make this funny? I’m going to put like a praying mantis reading a book to a little beetle or create funny little scenes.’”
The first humorous piece featured a praying mantis wearing glasses, a glimpse into the quirky world that was beginning to emerge from Walton’s imagination. However, it was their job at a curiosity shop that truly sparked the evolution of Curioddities.
Working in the shop gave Walton access to a wide range of supplies and materials, which fueled their creativity. They began to craft intricate scenes with a playful and often irreverent twist like bugs participating in yoga.
Walton used to create relaxing chambers for the bugs by placing them on a sponge with water and vinegar, but the process involved waiting for several days for them to relax. However, Walton eventually discovered a more efficient technique of injecting warm water into the insects' muscles, resulting in instant relaxation.
“For beetles, I pour boiling water into a bowl and dunk them, and it instantly relaxes them too. Sometimes I just break the legs off and glue them back into place. I have this really nice super glue that has an activator spray, so it sets instantly. It’s been a lifesaver,” Walton said.
Since moving to Longmont in March 2023, Walton hasn't come across any distinct or unusual bugs. Finding unique insects locally has proven to be quite a challenge for them. Consequently, Walton has shifted to procuring insects online, with a particular focus on beetles due to their sturdier and more robust leg structure.
Longmontsters can dare to find these wonderfully strange Curioddities by Shelby Walton upstairs in Studio 64 at the Firehouse Art Center until the end of September.
“I just hope people have a different appreciation for bugs, rather than just thinking that they’re gross. You know, I think that being able to really appreciate that they can be something a little bit more than just something you want to step on,” Walton said.