Recently, modelmaker Danny Fielding and intern Jessica Western helped make the milkweed bugs at the National Museum of Natural History’s Insect Zoo feel a little more at home. Danny and Jessica used their collective expertise to create faux milkweed plants for placement in the bug’s cages to simulate their natural habitat in the offseason when the real plants are unavailable.
To create the lifelike plant models, they combined processes of molding and casting parts of real plants as well as direct build-up using steel, epoxy putty, cotton and glue, and other materials.
For example, Danny made plaster molds of real milkweed leaves, then vac-u-formed thin sheets of plastic onto the molds conforming the plastic to shape. To create the milkweed flower he assembled clusters of buds individually from casts of real buds. Jessica built up tapered leaf stems from wire rolled with cotton batting and glue. Jessica also hand applied hundreds of “spines” one-by one to casts of pods. Plant stems were sculpted out of epoxy putty over a steel armature. Finally all the parts were arranged, assembled to shape, and airbrushed by Danny and hand-distressed by Jessica matching the colors and character of the real plants with incredible attention to detail.
The milkweed plant models are alternately on display (and covered with bugs!) at the Insect Zoo located in the National Museum of Natural History.
Modelmaker Danny Fielding examining his work
A plaster mold, leaf stem, unpainted leaf, and painted leaf
Jessica Western hand painting natural details on the milkweed plant
The milkweed plant installed in NMNH's insect zoo