16 December 2010

Evolution brings natural history to Soho

No other city on the planet offers the kind of street life New York does. Despite its cold and wet weather, life in New York happens outside. All of that foot traffic means that it's possible to make a living as a shop owner. As in a real life, honest-to-goodness merchant. New York city is full to over flowing with them and it's a real pleasure to walk into a non-chain retail establishment, see some cool stuff and learn a thing or two about the people whose livelihoods depend on that store.

Well on Friday afternoon I was walking down Spring Street from Broadway to West Broadway and halfway between Mercer and Greene Streets I stumbled upon what has to be the coolest shop I've ever found in my life.

A shop window similar to this display stopped me dead in my tracks.

I'd stumbled upon Evolution, a 17-year-old natural history store.

I make a living from convincing people to do things like upholster their chairs in toile but what I'd really love to encourage people to do is hang a beautifully mounted Calloplophora solli.

Sadly, not everybody shares my opinion that insects are spectacularly beautiful.

Just look at these patterns and colors. Fabric designers take note.

Evolution has an entomology staff whom they describe as artisans. Artists is more like it. Mounting and preserving insect specimens for scientific study is an exacting and difficult discipline. That Evolution has a staff of them speaks volumes about the store and about the city it calls home.

I love design in all of its forms and for me design starts in the natural world. As designers we mimic and recreate the shapes, forms and colors of the natural world and seeing the natural world displayed like this is a real thrill.

Some people get freaked out by the very idea of an insect and that's too bad. Others get worked up over the idea of mounting what were once living creatures. I don't see the point of that either. Preserving biological diversity doesn't stand a chance if nobody understands it and the key to understanding it is high-quality, scientific specimens. That I can buy them too is a bonus. Evolution has a great statement on their website that sums up their commitment to the world's insects:
All our insects are legally obtained and have been cleared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We do not sell any species listed in the Endangered Species Act. Most of our insects come from insect farms located in some of the most exotic tropical and subtropical regions on earth. Insect farming provides income for indigenous peoples, eliminates the burden on wild caught species, and promotes the maintenance and care of natural environments rather than its exploitation, as is often the case with other agricultural businesses.
Evolution also sells bones, fossils, minerals, taxidermy specimens and shells. They sell everything with the same sense of awe and respect that they sell their mounted insects.

If you ever find yourself on Spring Street and you're wondering what sort of thing you can buy me, this would be a good start.

Here's a close up because I just can't help myself.

If you can't make it to Spring Street, here's the link to Evolution's website.


  1. Is that the natural color of the bugs? or do they paint them?

    I can handle most of those bugs, except the spider...ewwww.

  2. No artificial anything, that's the read deal on those insects. It's easy to miss how beautifully colored insects are when they're moving around but the reality is that on the whole, insects' use of color puts birds to shame.

  3. I adore Evolution! I found it a few years while stumbling around Soho BEFORE people started putting bones everywhere. But I still love it. And bugs. You're certainly not weird in that! I even made a beetle in a metalworking class I took... Who's the weird one now? ; )

    Glad you found it and had a great trip!!

  4. We really are siblings by different parents or something. What really sent my imagination flying all over the place was the non-bug stuff they have in that store but for this post I concentrated on bugs. I have always wanted a human skull to keep around as an objet d'art and I nearly dies when I saw that Evolution sells them. True, you need a medical license but just knowing that they're out there made the burden of my life easier to bear.

  5. There's got to be a black market for human skulls. I have a friend who works at the FDA - I'll tell her to keep an eye out for heads floating around and things in jars!

  6. Wonderful, nature really does give us design miracles. Thanks for this post, just breathtaking. cindy @urbanverse

  7. Saucy: Tell your pal to keep his or her eyes open.

    Cindy: I'm convinced that all good design starts with the natural world and flows from there.

  8. When I was a little girl, someone gave me a mounted, framed butterfly. I was entranced with the thing. Couldn't stop myself from prying open the framing to get closer. Big mistake. I was heartbroken. Thank you so much for this post!

  9. I discovered the Evolution website about a year ago and wanted to order everything! I live in Canada and unfortunately bones, taxidermy, insects, coral and seashells cannot be shipped internationally (well, they can, but you have to obtain a license for each piece and the license costs $250 and up PER PIECE), so I wasn't able to buy any bones, taxidermy, insects, coral or seashells. But I was able to buy reproduction animal skulls and skeletons. And they were perfect - they looked and felt real! I'm saving up for a reproduction rhino skull right now. My cabinet of curiosities is looking good!

  10. Small shops with a varied inventory is what makes NYC unique, but then I read stuff like this and am reminded that eventually, even NYC will look and feel like everywhere else in America. Just a matter of time as WalMart wears us all down and buys off the politicians who are supposed to protect from this.


  11. Denise: Sounds like somebody needs a road trip to New York!

    Rufus: I believe in New York City. I've lost all faith in middle America but if Wal-Mart thinks it can change the face of Manhattan they need to rethink that.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. I keep saying I'm going to add insects to my butterfly collection and now I'm motivated.

    Off to explore Evolution....

  13. Check out the store itself the next time you're in New York. As cool as the website is, it can't hold a candle to the actual place.

  14. How pathetic to give the glory of all this beauty to evolution rather than the Creator. Natural selection does not account for the diversity we find in nature.

  15. Dear anonymous coward, did you read the article you just commented on? Aside from the fact that your superstitious beliefs don't have a shred of evidence to support them, no where in that piece did I mention anything about the origins of life. The blinders you've willingly installed on your brain are the only pathetic thing I can see here.


Talk to me!