Saco Maker Savannah Saccarelli’s Arthropod Art Is Scary Good

Her company name, Muh.Kaa.Bruh, nods to the grim perception many folks have of her art.

Savannah Saccarelli, owner of Muh.Kaa.Bruh, with her arthropod art
By Sara Anne Donnelly
Photos by Aliza Eliazarov
From our June 2024 issue

One of Savannah Saccarelli’s earliest memories is of talking to a bumblebee. “I must have been four or five and I came running inside from our playground and told my mother there was a bee on the slide and I couldn’t play on it anymore,” she says. Her mom told her not to be afraid: “Just go outside and talk to it.” So Saccarelli did. She doesn’t recall what she said, but she remembers her feelings shifting from fear to fascination. “It was one of those lightbulb moments like, oh my god, this little guy could be my friend,” she says.

a collection of Savannah Saccarelli's arthropod art
“I’ve seen other artists who do similar work, but it’s geared toward being dark and kind of goth,” says Savannah Saccarelli, who aims to create elegant displays “to highlight these insects.”

Today, in her Saco attic studio, Saccarelli makes art with deceased insects. In shadow boxes with ornate frames, she pins moths and butterflies in majestic mid-flight poses. In glass cloches, she glues opalescent beetles to metal posts alongside sprigs of baby’s breath. In jewelry, she suspends ladybugs in epoxy, like little flecked gems. Her company name, Muh.Kaa.Bruh, nods to the grim perception many folks have of her art. “I get so many different reactions when people come into my craft-fair booths,” she says. “One person will be amazed and another will be freaking out. I’ve had people scream and run away. I feel like most people, if they see a bug in their house, their first instinct is to smash it. But if we didn’t have these insects, food chains and ecosystems would break down. I want to make things that are pretty to highlight these insects.”

Saccarelli grew up in Salt Lake City, at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. After the bumblebee breakthrough, she remembers spending hours roaming the woods behind her house and spying on insects. When she was in her early 20s, her parents moved to New Hampshire. A few years later, in 2017, she settled in Portland to be near them. She got a job as manager of the Commercial Street Starbucks, kept Madagascar hissing cockroaches as pets (until her now-husband nixed the arrangement), and started experimenting with insect pinning. “There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of breaking wings,” she says. Through the coffee shop, she got to know some of the craft vendors who set up along Commercial Street every summer, and she eventually set up shop alongside them. In 2022, she went full-time as an arthropod artist.

Her best-selling bugs hail from tropical forests in Asia and South and Central America: the Goliath birdeater tarantula (devourer of rodents and frogs but, despite its name, not birds), the Hercules beetle (a horned critter capable of hauling 850 times its body weight), the luminescent blue morpho butterfly, and the seven-inch-long Giant Vietnamese centipede. Her most popular locally sourced critter is the North American jade-green luna moth, which nature grants but a week to procreate before it starves to death, as it has no digestive system. For this reason, lunas can be hard to come by, but Saccarelli scored a bunch from her friend Jim Nutting, also known as “The Bug Guy,” who raises insects in Lisbon Falls.

More often, Saccarelli orders from wholesalers who work with insect farms and butterfly gardens. The creatures, all of which have died naturally, arrive as dry and fragile as preserved flowers, enclosed in tiny parchment-paper envelopes. Saccarelli’s first job is to rehydrate them so she can move their bodies without breaking them. She wraps the bugs in damp paper towels and seals them in Tupperware for a few days (except for ladybugs, which are too delicate to manipulate and thus head directly into their epoxy bubbles). Next, she pins her specimens to wooden or Styrofoam boards with fine entomology needles and lets them sit for 24 hours to redry in her chosen poses. After that, she repins them in shadow boxes or glues them to rocks, gemstones, or metal posts.

While the bugs are drying, Saccarelli glues thrift-store frames and custom inlaid-pine frames from Portland’s Dirt Wood Brass onto shadow boxes and cuts backings from fabric, textured leather, or embossed paper that resembles a pressed-tin ceiling. Oversize and eye-catching, the enclosures compel you to admire things that might also creep you out, reframing nature’s unsung heroes.

Savannah Saccarelli’s art is for sale ($55 and up) on Muh.Kaa.Bruh’s website, Gardiner’s Ritual Market (July 14), and Acton’s Maine Renaissance Faire (July 20–21 and 27–28).

May 2024, Down East Magazine

Get all of our latest stories delivered straight to your mailbox every month. Subscribe to Down East magazine.