RALEIGH, NC – Sometimes the inspiration flies out and hits you in the face. This is what happened to jeweler Susan Reynolds.
“One day I was walking my dog and this cicada flew up and hit me on the head and then it fell to my feet,” Ms. Reynolds said.
Once out, the cicadas have only a few weeks to live. This one seemed to have died in flight. Mrs. Reynolds picked up the insect, brought it back to her worktable, and became fascinated by the intricate shape and veins of its wings.
This is how she created her first pair of earrings from cicada wings almost 20 years ago, long before Brood X emerged in many parts of the United States this spring. . Now Ms Reynolds is filling orders for many more customers, who want to commemorate 17 years of the Cicada, she said.
At first, she kept her cicada earrings simple: just the wing, coated with resin. Then she started adding semi-precious stones and Swarovski crystals. This year, Ms. Reynolds, 62, incorporated flowers, leaves and birds cut from vintage postcards into her designs. The results almost look like tiny, delicate stained glass panels.
“I want to make jewelry that looks like a fairy that flew into an elderly woman’s bedroom and started ripping things out of her dressing table,” Ms. Reynolds said.
Getting the raw material takes a bit of work. Brood X is prevalent in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, but North Carolina doesn’t get many.
The Raleigh area receives more cicadas, usually in early July, but until they appeared Ms Reynolds relied on bundles of dead cicadas from Brood X hot spots. Most of Ms Reynolds’ neighbors also know she’s the lady of the cicadas – she spread the word on the neighborhood mailing list – so people also drop dead cicadas in a box near her front door.
Initially, Ms Reynolds said, she thought, “Who would want to send me dead bugs? Would the postal service even allow it? “
It turns out his customers provide them. Cheryl Fraser, owner of Galatea Boutique, a local store that sells the jewelry, said people have started to drop dead cicadas into the store. (A customer sent earrings to a girl in Washington, DC, to commemorate the cicada invasion of the nation’s capital.)
“They’re really taking off,” said Ms. Fraser, who has sold Ms. Reynolds jewelry for more than a decade. “It’s a hat trick to the cicada.”
Until she’s ready to work on it, Mrs. Reynolds puts the dead bugs in bags and freezes them. Even frozen, cicadas smell very bad. When she’s about to remove a batch of wings, she puts on a mask, lights a scented candle, and uses microsurgical scissors to cut the wings off the bodies.
The wings usually don’t need to be cleaned, but if something is stuck on them, she soaks them in hot, soapy water. Despite their ethereal appearance, the wings are quite resilient.
This is Brood X. Periodic cicada species will emerge throughout the eastern part of the United States in the coming weeks. Here’s what you need to know about our insect visitors who appear every 17 years.
- Answers to common questions: Where will the cicadas be? When will you see them? And what the hell are they doing?
- Where they disappeared: On Long Island in New York and other places, Brood X may be gone forever.
- Test yourself: Seventeen years is a lot to catch up with for Brood X. Test your memory of what was going on in our world when they last appeared in 2004.
- Listen to their music: The cicadas are loud and noisy. But if you know how to listen, you’ll hear the music they make, writes one contributor in this guest essay.
She gets rid of the rest of the bug. “Birds and squirrels love to eat them, believe it or not,” Ms. Reynolds said.
The rest of the process is to select the right designs from your collection of old postcards and layers of resin. It takes Ms. Reynolds five to six days to make a pair of earrings or a necklace.
That can make for a bit of an entomological scene: Last summer, Mrs. Reynolds counted 480 cicadas in her freezer at the end of the season. (Including the occasional damaged wings and single wings for pendants, 480 cicadas equals 800 pairs of give or take earrings.) They are now sold in 10 galleries and museum stores in the region; prices range from $ 50 to $ 85 for earrings and $ 54 to $ 125 for necklaces.
During the height of the pandemic, people were shopping through her Etsy store, Bijou Savvy. “I really had no idea they would become so popular,” Ms. Reynolds said with a laugh.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh has been selling the earrings in its museum shop for several years, according to Heather Heath, the museum’s retail operations manager.
Insects are big business at the museum: its annual week-long Bugfest attracted around 35,000 people, pre-pandemic, to discover (and eat) them. But Ms Heath said Ms Reynolds’ jewelry is different because it shows cicadas are ‘beautiful’ and not just loud, messy sex machines.
“I really love it when people take something that a lot of people think is rude and disgusting, and see that it can be beautiful,” Ms Heath said.