The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

Art Made of Butterfly Wings: The Micromosaics of Henry Dalton

A rare and fascinating kind of art comes from a man named Henry Dalton (1829-1911). Most people, however, haven’t heard of it.
Dalton loved science while growing up. As an adult he got into microscopy, the science of using microscopes to view objects that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Dalton put this skill to a unique use: he put together micromosaics using only diatoms and the scales of butterfly wings.

Diatoms are a major type of algae.

Art like this had never been done before, and Dalton gained respect for his work from fellow naturalists.

Pictures courtesy of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Images courtesy of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Dalton traveled quite a bit in an attempt to improve his health after he got tuberculosis in his thirties. Whether or not it improved his health, it did improve his reputation as an artist.

The first step in making these micromosaics was collecting butterfly wings from around the world. Dalton meticulously took off the scales with a needle and sorted the scales by size, color and shape. Once a scale’s location in the piece had been chosen, Dalton would very carefully move it to its selected spot with a small tube and a plate of glass. He crushed a small part of the scale to the slide, letting its natural oils stick to the glass.

Dalton’s art used up to a thousand butterfly wing scales in each piece.

Today, Dalton’s art is shown at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in California. Visitors need to look through microscopes to see the pieces: that’s how tiny they are.

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