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New Santa Barbara Gallery – Where Art Meets Science

For many years the Museum’s Wall of Insects has been an object of visual fascination and illustration. With the transformation of Cartwright Hall of Insect Interactions into the new Santa Barbara Gallery, however, Museum Entomologist and Curator Matthew Gimmel, Ph.D. found it necessary to reimagine the Wall of Insects. And reimagine he did! Matt created a new installation where art meets science in a way that vividly illustrates evolution in the insect world! Like the former focus of Cartwright Hall, the Santa Barbara Gallery retains its strong emphasis on exploring the total biotic diversity of the region – where insects make up 80% of all animal life.

Gimmel said, “Fortunately, I was allowed a lot of freedom in terms of the concept, but this was also a challenging assignment, given that the Wall of Insects was treasured by so many Museum-goers for a long time.”

Gimmel clarified that the old Wall had a lot of “repeats” or duplicates of the same species. It overwhelmed one with sheer quantity, not necessarily diversity. However, it was an extremely impressive assemblage of species. Remarkably, many of these specimens survived being on public display for decades with the dust and sunlight that comes with this. Thus, they could be re-fitted for the new wall. Not all the specimens used came from the old wall since some were faded, broken, or otherwise un-usable. Matt added many fresher-looking specimens, with help from star entomologist-docent and Research Associate (and Mission Creek Legacy Society member) Sandy Russell.

The reinvented Insect Wall in the new Santa Barbara Gallery
Dr. Matthew Gimmel examines specimens
for the new Insect Wall.

“I had three main goals. I wanted to keep all insects ‘local’, meaning they occur within a 200-mile radius of the Museum, I wanted to feature smaller insects as well as the big ones since diversity peaks at around the 4- or 5-millimeter length range, and I wanted to feature all insect orders (major groups) in our region, of which there are about 30,” he said.

When the project was in the planning stages, the biggest challenge was the arrangement of the specimens. The Museum team eventually settled on the “loose tree of life” arrangement, as opposed to arranging them by size, feeding strategy, habitat, etc. The evolutionary tree arrangement allowed a lot of jumping-off points for stories in the insect world. For example, visitors can see the point in evolutionary history where insects developed complete, four-stage metamorphosis, and the “flowering” of diversity that followed (80% of insect species have this feature).

Insects make up 80% of all animal species in the world and are almost unthinkably abundant. They often get short shrift at natural history museums just because they’re small. But with modern imaging techniques readily available, this is no longer an issue.

I think the new Santa Barbara Gallery and Insect Wall go a long way towards promoting greater understanding and appreciation of the insect world at our Museum and in our region. Dr. Gimmel’s work was very aligned with the overall goal of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Centennial Project, which so many of you supported, to take the best of the past and to make it new!


Luke J. Swetland
President & CEO

Upcoming Events
Science on Site: Scanning Electron Microscope
Tuesday, July 24 / 11:00 AM-2:00 PM
Museum Courtyard
Free with paid admission
Using the power of focused electron beams, Dr. Daniel Geiger is able to showcase magnified images of insects, shells and more with his magnificent scanning electron microscope (SEM)! Join Dr. Geiger for a demonstration of the SEM and learn how it works.

Space is limited, sign-up in the courtyard on Tuesday, July 24 at 10:30 AM. Must be 10 years or older.
Science Pub: Geology and Viticulture - a Central Coast Perspective
Monday, August 13 / 6:30-8:00 PM
Dargan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, 18 E. Ortega Street
Free Admission
Join our fun and friendly conversation, and quench your thirst for knowledge about science and nature. Be sure to get to Dargan’s early for a seat and your favorite food and drink.

Vineyard geology is often touted as the driving factor for the unique flavors of different wines, but is there scientific support? How does the centuries-old concept of terroir, or the flavor expression of a region, hold up to scientific scrutiny? Join Dr. Jonathan Hoffman, SBMNH Dibblee Collection Manager of Earth Science, as he discusses the influences of soil and geology on vine growth and wine flavor, focusing on how the Central Coast’s unique geology contributes to its diverse wine industry.
Save the Date: Mission Creek Legacy Society Annual Dinner
Monday, September 17 / 5:30 PM
Museum Courtyard
The Mission Creek Legacy Society Annual Dinner recognizes donors who have remembered the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in their will, trust, or estate plan. Leaving a legacy ensures that the Museum will stay strong for many years to come. Join 70 other members at this fun and friendly reception and dinner. If you have made such a commitment to the Museum, please let us know so we can include you at this celebration. Contact Rochelle Rose CFRE at or phone (805) 682-4711 ext. 179.

Are you a Gift Planner? Mixer on the Wharf on August 14!
Tuesday, August 14 / 5:30-7:00 PM
Sea Center on Stearns Wharf
Are you a gift planner working in the greater Santa Barbara area? If you are an attorney, accountant, bank officer, wealth manager, or are interested in learning more about planned giving and the Museum, you are invited to the upcoming Summer Mixer on the Wharf, hosted by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Santa Barbara Council of Charitable Gift Planners on Tuesday, August 14, 5:30-7:00 PM at the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. Enjoy breathtaking views, wine, beer, hors d’oeuvres, and live music, as well as a walk through the Sea Center’ hands-on exhibits. To register visit

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