Just because a person is a scientist does not mean that that same person cannot also be an artist and historian. One entomologist, Greg Cowper has proven this with his new insect exhibit at Eastern State Penitentiary, which is now a historical site. Eastern State Penitentiary operated from the late 1820s all the way until the early 1970s. The penitentiary is a notable historical landmark for several reasons. One of these reasons had to do with establishing a correctional institute that was geared more toward rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. The idea of rehabilitating criminals was gaining popularity among the public at the time when the facility was first constructed. Despite the penitentiary’s noble ambition, its history is now known for prisoner abuse and acts of inhumanity when it comes to treating the mentally ill. This is just one of the many reasons as to why creating an insect exhibition on the penitentiary grounds strikes many people as a strange thing to do. However, the exhibit may attract visitors, as the penitentiary already sees many tourists. The entomologist/artist/historian has set up an insect exhibit within a prison cell by using historically relevant materials to build artistically styled display cases.


Greg Cowper is a curatorial assistant in the department of entomology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. For years Cowper has been fascinated with the ecology surrounding the now derelict penitentiary. Cowper has long been curious about the different insect species that have come to inhabit the penitentiary grounds. In order to satisfy this curiosity, Cowper’s exhibit, which is titled Greg Cowper: Specimen, is showcasing insects that have been caught on the penitentiary grounds over the past few years. The insects are being displayed on objects that prisoners actually used, and furniture that they sat and slept on while in the prison. According to Cowper, this exhibit is supposed to be reminiscent of how prisoners would collect insects as a hobby. Cowper has also learned that the insect life surrounding the penitentiary became far more diverse and abundant after the facility was closed. The diversity of insect life on the penitentiary grounds makes the entire regions seem like an island when compared to the insect diversity in surrounding areas.


Would you be willing to visit Cowper’s exhibit? Do you think that the exhibit could be educational?