“The Secret Life of Vineyards,” an insect-themed ceramic-mosaic mural created by a UC Davis team and was recently installed at the Matthiasson Winery on Dry Creek Road, Napa.
The large-scale mural, spearheaded by two faculty members/artists in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, and an artist/retired lecturer in the Department of Design, was unveiled at on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Napa winery.
“Creators, artists, students, and volunteers witnessed the results of their hard, fun, and educational work creating the incredibly detailed tile mosaic mural depicting The Secret Life of Vineyards,” announced Jesse Galvan, director of hospitality for Matthiasson Wines. Special guests in attendance included UC Davis Chancellor Gary May.
The project, fusing art with science, showcases the diversity of life in an organic vineyard ecosystem. Designing and directing the project were:
- Distinguished professor Diane Ullman of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, who researches insect/virus/plant interactions and insect-transmitted plant pathogens
- Assistant professor Emily Meineke, an urban landscape entomologist, Department of Entomology and Nematology, who studies plant-herbivore relationships
- Professional graphic designer and retired lecturer Gale Okumura of the Department of Design, known for her design solutions in visual communications.
Secret Life sprang to life in a spring quarter class, Entomology 001, “Art, Science and the World of Insects,” taught by Professors Ullman and Meineke. Ullman, founding co-director of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, described the project as “a collaboration between students and instructors in ENT 001; community members from Davis, Woodland, and Napa, and Matthiasson Winery; and the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. Gale Okumura greatly assisted with the design and also helped train students in the ceramics technique for creating their artwork.”
Said Ullman: “This project allowed students in ENT 001 to learn the intricacies of the ecosystem in organic vineyards, and the importance of insects within it. Each student conducted their own research, learned design principles, and designed and created a piece of the mural. Along the way, they learned to collaborate with their classmates and volunteers from the community to produce a large scale, public artwork that communicates the ecology of the vineyard environment.”
“Students had the opportunity to hear about integrated pest management from Steve Matthiasson, and to consider the role of insects as pests and as natural enemies, in the context of all the other life in the vineyard,” Ullman said. “What a great experience! Emily Meineke and I are incredibly grateful to our partner in design and fabrication of the mural, Gale Okumura, a retired lecturer from the Department of Design, and the many community members and volunteers who helped make this mural possible. The installation is unusual in that the mural is mounted inside a frame that is attached to the wall, rather than being attached directly to the wall. The engineering and building of this system, as well as the installation, was done by artist Amanda Larson of Half Moon Bay. Amanda has Davis connections as she grew up here and has a master’s degree from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. We were delighted to be given this opportunity by the Matthiassons. The mural really celebrates their commitment to biodiversity and sustainability in viticulture.”
In a joint statement, Ullman and Meineke related that the Secret Life of Vineyards “was designed to reflect the ecosystem within and around an organic vineyard as it progresses from early spring to harvest. A Cabernet Sauvignon vine is the centerpiece of the mural, shown from the first bud in the spring to harvest time in the autumn. The artworks include more than 80 arthropods (insects, spiders and centipedes), several bird species, mammals (bobcat, deer, rabbits, squirrels, a pocket gopher), a gopher snake, mycorrhizal fungi and even earthworms. The work is an ode to the importance of biodiversity and balance in the ecosystem in which wine vines are grown and reflects the passion of the Matthiasson Winery for sustainable viticulture.”
Said Meineke: “This visual representation aims to raise awareness of a world that often goes unnoticed but is essential for maintaining the overall health of these vibrant ecosystems.”
The mural, installed in June and July on an outer wall of the Matthiasson Winery Building and Tasting Area, measures 10 feet wide by six feet in height, and weighs an estimated 600 to 800 pounds. The crew packed the assembled panels “with lots of padding in an electric van from UC Davis Fleet Services and transported them to the Matthiasson Winery,” Ullman said. “Each of the four panels weighed between 125 and 200 pounds.”
The insects on the mural range from beneficial insects to notorious pests. They include lady beetles that feast on aphids, and the glassy-winged sharpshooters that feed on plant fluids.
The directors created a PowerPoint detailing the progression of the art work and the artists’ descriptions. They include:
Harrison Ford Spider. Nicholas Nguyen a civil engineering major, depicted the Harrison Ford spider, Calponia harrisonfordi, describedby arachnologist Norman Platnick of the American Museum of Natural History in 1993. “In real life, the spider is only around 5 millimeters and much of its biology and physiology is unknown, though it’s thought to eat other spiders,” Nguyen wrote. “For the design, I incorporated Indiana Jones’ hat as an homage to one of Harrison Ford’s most well-known roles. The hat is subdued under the roots as if a farmhand accidentally left it there after a break out of the sun or if Indy transformed into the spider of his actor’s namesake.”
“C. harrisonfordi is the quintessential example of legacy,” Nguyen added. “The spider legacy of an archaeologist, blade runner, space smuggler and also environmentalist, activist, actor and ultimately hero, Harrison Ford.”
“I wanted to represent the insect scavenging for a waxworm,” Montes related. “I wanted to show that this insect appears aggressive, but also to grant visual diversity within the insect activity throughout the mural. Although many would think that the potato bug is big, clunky, and serves no purpose other than to scare people, researching the insect gave me much more insight on the importance this insect has in the environment, especially in vineyards.”
California Lady Beetle. Sophomore Yijia “Sally” Zhou, depicted a California lady beetle, Coccinella californica, in her Eco-Alliance artwork. “This insect plays a crucial role in natural pest management by preying on plant-damaging pests,” she wrote. “As valuable biological control agents, they help to control pest populations, reducing the need for harmful chemical pesticides. The relationship between C. california and humans extends beyond its role in biological control. This insect holds cultural and ecological significance, captivating the interest and admiration of people.”
“In my design,” Zhou explained, “I aimed to depict the harmonious interaction between C. californica and California buckwheat in wine yield, representing their interdependence and the beauty of their collaboration. The adjacent human is releasing the beetle to the buckwheat, representing the excellent relationship between humans and the California lady beetle. I aim to inspire people to contemplate the profound connections and interdependencies within ecosystems. The collaboration between C. california, humans, and California buckwheat serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and interconnectedness of all living beings. By celebrating the beauty of this symbiotic relationship, we can foster a deeper appreciation for nature’s intricate tapestries.”
The Entomology 001 Professors
Diane Ullman. Ullman joined the UC Davis faculty in 1991. She launched the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program in September 2006; chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology from 2004-2005; and served as an associate dean for undergraduate academic programs for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from 2005 to 2014.
A Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014) and the Entomological Society of America (2011), Ullman was named the 2014 recipient of the ESA National Excellence in Teaching Award. She received the UC Davis Academic Senate’s 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award for undergraduate teaching.
Emily Meineke. Meineke, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2020, was recently named an Early Career Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and one of 12 UC Davis recipients of the prestigious Hellman Fellowships, an annual program supporting the research of early-career faculty. She was among the scholars and artists who helped spearhead the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s “In Search of Thoreau’s Flowers: An Exploration of Change and Loss,” hailed as an examination of the natural world and climate change at the intersections of science, art and history. Meineke helped launch the project in 2017 when she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University Herbaria. The 648 plant specimens that Henry David Thoreau donated to the museum form the foundation of the exhibit, which opened to the public in May of 2022.
The Matthiasson Winery
Steve Matthiasson and Jill Klein Matthiasson, owners of Matthiasson Winery, 3175 Dry Creek Road, are active in the sustainable agriculture and local food movement. The winery is a James Beard Award six-time nominee and was named “Winemaker of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle and Food & Wine Magazine. For information on Matthiasson Winery, access the website at https://www.matthiasson.com.