Roaches Are Checking into Ricky Boscarino's Dioramas, and a Bug-Eyed Public Is Checking Them Out

updated 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

From Hiroshima's smoking ruins he supposedly scuttled without a scar. A nocturnal type, he has noshed on the eyelashes and fingernails of slumbering humans but also will dine on TV insulation wires, toothpaste and toupees. A resident of all seven continents, with a lineage that predates Christ by 350 million years, he has an estimated billion cousins on Manhattan Island alone. He is, of course, the cockroach.

Thanks to an inventive New Haven goldsmith, the much-maligned cucaracha has made the unlikely metamorphosis into art object. During the past four years Ricky Boscarino, 23, has created more than 60 dioramas using roaches. Costing between $45 and $300, the glass-encased tableaux depict scenes from everyday life—a roach visiting the dentist, sipping tea, or working as a radio announcer, short-order cook or chemist. "My pieces are absurd and funny," says Boscarino, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate. "They appeal to everyone's sense of irony."

Boscarino spends seven hours or more on each diorama. He crafts the furniture painstakingly out of cardboard, stitches tiny drapes and fashions trees out of dried wildflowers. But it's the roaches themselves who cause the most trouble. "Have you ever tried to glue antennae back on a cockroach?" he asks. Boscarino refuses to use damaged specimens.

Boscarino's sister, a Washington, D.C. cartoonist, acts as his supplier. After her cat stuns a prime candidate, she places it in her freezer and then ships it along with a collection of its frozen relations to Boscarino's bachelor apartment in New Haven, where he dries them on his radiator.

Boscarino dreams big, envisioning a diorama of three roaches touring the Vatican, and maybe the President and First Bug in the Oval Office. He has already completed one diorama destined to be a classic. A weary salesman, his antennae drooping, checks into a fleabag—the definitive Roach Motel.

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