Sarah Horowitz, “Lepidoptera: The Death of the Moth”

Lepidoptera: book overview with box

horowitz-2 Limp vellum binding detail and hand made paper deckle edge

Title page with facing cocoon etching (Spectrum typefaces)

Open page view with etching depicting Actias selene (asian variation of luna moth)

Etching from the book depicting Arctia Caja (Great Tiger moth) and Platyprepia virginalis (Ranchman’s Tiger Moth) with it’s caterpillar.


Sarah Horowitz (Leavenworth, WA)

Lepidoptera: The Death of the Moth
handmade paper; intaglio: hard ground, aquatint, engraving; letterpress; sewn binding with limp vellum cover and gold stamping; cloth covered box
Edition of 40
38 pages
11 x 15 x 1″ open
11 x 7.5 x 1″ closed

My concept for an insect book took direction when I was introduced to Virginia Woolf’s non-fiction essay ‘The Death of the Moth’. In it she muses on the moth as both an insignificant creature and, as she says, “a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers”. Woolf’s writing helped me transcend what would be a book of specimens and instead form a meditation on life and fragility. I created my own person collection and gained insight into the ingenuity of evolution. Some of the moths I drew mimicked butterflies, wasps or hummingbirds, while others were toxic or major agricultural pests.

Throughout my work, my images delve into the ephemeral nature of ourselves and the natural world around us in hopes of catching the ever-present transience and mortality. My drawings have their origins in a long lineage of botanical drawings and prints, from early medieval herbal books of primitive woodcuts, to the masterful engravings of insects and their host plants in the 17th century South American Dutch colony of Surinam by Maria Sibylla Merian, and the contemporary artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger who renders insects from areas surrounding nuclear facilities and their resulting deformities. Nature as chaotic and unpredictable with complex lines of right and wrong is not an inappropriate metaphor for the human condition of struggle, violence, and unexpected beauty. Woolf’s essay rises in a crescendo with the commotion of the day as the moth struggles for its life then finds quiet and peace in its cessation.

I spent the winter of 2014 with a magnification visor carefully drawing onto copper the delicate specimens loaned to me by the Oregon State Arthropod Collection in Corvallis, Oregon. Their curator Christopher Marshall and their lepidoptera specialist Paul Hammond gave me a crash course in entomology collections, storage and handling, preserving, and the moths themselves. Thirty-two moth etchings, plus a thistle in the colophon, are accompanied by Virginia Woolf ’s non-fiction essay. The etchings were printed in the spring on handmade and custom-colored paper made for this book by Katie MacGregor from Maine. Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press lent a hand with some typesetting, and Art Larson of Horton Tank Graphics in Hadley, Massachusetts printed the text in Spectrum types. Each limp vellum binding by Claudia Cohen is stamped on the front with a gold moth, and cased in a box.