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PhbeaD – Jewelry from Insects

Kentucky Life talks to Lisa Senetar, a biochemist who makes jewelry out of insects and sells them through her company, PhbeaD.

What happens when you combine a Ph.D. in biochemistry with a love of insects and jewelry? Lisa Senetar of Paint Lick creates unique jewelry with insect wings set in sterling silver or brass. PhbeaD (which combines PhD with bead) is her jewelry-making business.

“When people see my work, there can be a mixed reaction,” she said. “A lot of times people don’t believe what they’re seeing. When I have my display up, I have pictures of the insects, and then I have the jewelry right there beside that particular insect so, you know, people can kind of make the connect. But a lot of times they just think it’s a picture of the wing that I’ve set in the jewelry. But then when I tell them what it is, 90 percent of the time, they’re very intrigued.”

The overall positive reaction has surprised and pleased her. “I never expected people to be so interested in science-related jewelry,” she said. “I think it’s because everybody can appreciate the beauty of nature.”

The beauty of nature has always inspired her. When she saw art made from pressed flowers, her thoughts turned to the beauty of insect wings. She uses everything from grasshoppers to cicadas to butterflies and moths.

Her science training has helped her in development of the protocols she uses to preserve the insect wings. She uses a resin to encase the wing and protect it. It is delicate work: If a wing is ripped, it can’t be glued back together. “The thing that is the trickiest about the work is I just have to be patient. … It’s sort of a one-shot deal,” she said.

She abides by federal regulations that prohibit people from bringing in insects that are not native to the area. “I have to go through specific channels in order to obtain any specimens that are from outside of the state,” she said.

Locally, she collects wings from dead insects, often by the roadside. “Some of them have been hit by cars. Some of them have just lived out their life cycle. A lot of the insects that I work with tend to have a lifespan of only a couple of weeks at a time,” she said. “So you don’t necessarily have to be that patient to wait for them to pass on naturally. But you do have to find some good places to look.”

She doesn’t add any extra pigment to the jewelry. What you see is the natural color of the insect. Many people don’t know they are looking at actual insect wings, she said. “You might see the vein pattern, but then the color throws you off,” she said.

The most popular insect found locally, she said, is probably the mint green luna moth wings with eye spots. Her most exotic insect is the pink grasshopper. “People are always so surprised that there’s pink on a wing and it’s natural,” she said.

She hopes her work inspires people to talk about insects and nature and biochemistry.

This video is part of Kentucky Life episode #2116 which originally aired on May 7, 2016. View the full episode here.