Robert Childs recently retired from 30 years of teaching science including nine in rural Missouri and the rest at Eureka High School. His life-long goal is connecting kids and adults to the natural world and, when not doing that, he spends his time studying the sciences and exploring other countries. His wife Delores Haskamp, who also loves these interests and activities, is also a huge part of his life.
How did you develop a passion for natural history?
Growing up sort of free range in rural Missouri formed the basis of a lifelong fascination with the natural world. That interest led to a degree in Wildlife Management which required me to take a variety of courses on natural history, including entomology. Once I started teaching, that background also afforded me the pleasure of being able to rotate through all of the science classes normally taught in high school, and to create several less common secondary courses, including an Environmental Field Biology class, and taking 9 groups of 20+ students on science-oriented field trips in Belize and Guatemala. In all of my teaching, I tried to make connections between the students and our world (and universe). Thirty years of those efforts reinforced my passion for natural history.
What inspired you to create the poster
The butterfly poster was a way for me to accomplish three things: learn to better identify local butterflies, learn how to use watercolors more effectively, and to connect people with nature. I have been recording all butterfly sightings on our property for a number of years, and had discovered that the small and medium size species are difficult to identify without having at least one of two things – an excellent memory of complex designs and associated names, or a photograph of the butterfly to compare to online or field guide photos. I don’t have the excellent memory so I resorted to taking photographs. To imbed the patterns and names better, and to practice nailing colors in my art, I decided to paint all 17 species of our yard butterflies. We consulted local entomologist Peter Haggard to find out what butterflies live in this area but hadn’t visited our property and added six more species for the poster.
Why did you choose to use watercolor instead of another medium?
I had done some drawing in college, but teaching took up my spare time until retirement. Once I took it up again and wanted to start adding color to my ink drawings, I took a watercolor course from the excellent Arcata artist Alan Sanborne and fell down that rabbit hole. Color pencils or acrylics would probably have been a better choice for the fine detail work of butterflies, but I really wanted to practice with something that would work with ink.
What is one of your favorite facts about butterflies?
The fact that Monarch butterflies are born in Missouri and then fly south and across the Gulf of Mexico to their parents’ birthplace, a grove of trees in western Mexico 2,000 miles away—a place they’ve never been—is incredible. Along with that, I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the adaptations that allow brightly-colored, yummy morsels to flap around in the sky, seemingly oblivious to the many predators that love to eat insects. To me, butterflies are the single least intuitive orders of Animalia to manage to exist on this crazy planet.
What more would you like to learn about butterflies?
I’m very interested in helping these fragile beauties survive human’s impact on Earth and I am currently learning about their nectaring and larval food plants.
What do you hope the poster inspires in those who purchase it?
The idea that my neighbors across Humboldt County can walk into their home and identify a butterfly that they’ve seen, without wading through the field guide pages of similar-looking species found on the West Coast, gives me incredible pleasure. I’m hoping that it will inspire them to plant butterfly gardens, and to delve deeper into our natural world. I’m convinced that intimate connections with nature are crucial to happy, well-adjusted human beings and societies.