Bug love: Paxton Gate's insect mounting class

Mounted beetles, mounting: Zenaida Sengo's "Scarabaeidae Family Spoon"

Say that this morning, as you swept aside your window-sash, eager to let in the “warm” summer breezes that are so characteristic of late July in San Francisco, you saw there on your sill a fuzzy little bumblebee – dead, but for all the world looking like the embodiment of the grassy field and sunflower days of your youth. Now. Have you the instinct to preserve the furry fella in, say a diorama also featuring a map of your childhood favorite municipal park and a cut out image of you at eight, perhaps attired in a swatch of that kitty cat dress you couldn't bear to be apart from at the time? (Just sayin'.) If that sounds apt, have the local horticulture-taxidermy enthusiasts down at Paxton Gate got a class for you!

In fact, they've had a class for you for awhile now – at least as long as teacher Zenaida Sengo has been teaching the store's weekly insect spreading courses. “People love the class,” she told me over the phone. “Not only do they take away a skill they want to use for their art, but they really seem to bond with each other. You're sharing a very obscure fascination -- you don't meet people that often that have that fascination for spreading insects.”

Indeed. But Sengo says she's approached on a regular basis by customers in the store – which, among rare plants and stones, sells taxidermied mice in papal costumes and an impressive rainbow of bugs winged and not winged -- who want to immortalize a pretty bee they found on their windowsill, or a creepy crawly that caught their eye hiking.

She's found that these encounters have happened more and more over the past few years, corresponding with a rise in Paxton Gate's popularity that she attributes to increased awareness about the environment and natural world. When a particularly inquistive patron comes her way, she points them to the classes, which have the dual benefit of saving insect enthusiasts some cash on professional mounting (ha!), and involving participants more deeply in the nature around them.

It's a rarefied setting, these courses. Take one, and you will be supplied with all the supplies needed to mount two new friends: a butterfly and a beetle, both of which are introduced to your care for the price of the class. Paxton Gate hopes to debut more subjects in their catalog shortly in response to customer questions about horticulture – orchid mounting and terrarium building are two that come to Sengo's mind as possible future educational adventures. 

Sengo herself came to Paxton Gate with horticulture experience alone but grew into the store's unique creature comforts over time, appreciative of the intensively technical, detailed work that is incurred in the spreading, mounting, and pinning of insects. She's even integrated the buggies into her art outside the store. Peruse her artist website and what surfaces are lucid dreamy, half-finished portraiture and half-animal, half-human forms – but she's also soaked insects in water to make them pliable enough to pose in domestic settings. 

Throughout the Valencia Street store Sengo's sets are in evidence – beetles clinging to sticks encased in sheltering belljars, seemingly about to take off in flight. She hopes that this sort of visual stimulation brings more bug fans to the store's classes. “Insects are beautiful animals. There's not a large percentage of people that see that, but for the ones that do they're very special.”

Insect Mounting Class

Every last Thursday through Aug 26 4-7 p.m., $60

Advance registration required

Paxton Gate

824 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-1872



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