The most precious gems the world can offer are buried in the farthest corners of the globe, deep in a cherished book, or in Old Pasadena’s very own Gold Bug gallery-where not all that glitters is gold.
Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug,” the family-owned gallery plays off the short story’s key scene when the protagonist, eager to have more money, follows scarab beetle toward a trove of treasures more valuable than what money could ever buy. In tune with the intellectually suspenseful tale’s motif of the golden bug, the store highlights how much of the world around us is not always what it seems.
Staying true to the somber and eerie undertone of Poe’s works, Gold Bug showcases pieces that are meant to turn heads and make statements about the troubles and glories of the world. Owner Theodora Coleman says each piece was chosen because, “of their ability to make people feel something, or see something in a new light they perhaps never considered before.”
Coleman says many items in the gallery serve as a vehicle to have meaningful conversations about the rich history of the world’s art practices. The gallerist added, other quirky works highlight the environment’s most notable struggles.
“The goal has always been the same and that’s to represent people who are inspired by nature, natural history and science that are doing something natural and will at some point go back to the Earth,” Coleman says.
The gallery boasts works from every corner of the world, but the collection of the items has humble beginnings based in Pasadena.
Before Coleman was born, her parents, Shelley Kimball and Stacey Coleman, owned a restaurant and employed countless actors, filmmakers and artists. In addition to flexible scheduling to accommodate their employees’ demanding dreams, the family showed their support for the arts by hanging the staff’s sculptures and paintings in the restaurant.
“When the art didn’t sell, my parents would show their support by buying some of the pieces themselves. They didn’t do a lot with it, they just kind of held onto it,” Coleman says.
Though the family closed the restaurant, the culmination of strange art pieces and sculptures sent the household down an entirely new path—one that sometimes involves the necessity of death to appreciate the fragility of life.
“There are a lot of things that are hard to look at because there is death in here, there are preserved animals here. I mean it’s a conversation we have a lot. But definitely where I’m coming from and these artists are all coming from is this place of revering nature and supporting systems to preserve it,” Coleman said.
She adds customers often ask about a handful of the gallery’s most eye-catching items. One of which is an isopod that dwells alone in a translucent box.
Isopods are part of the pill bug family and are related to the sand flea, but a prolonged glance at the creature paints an entirely different story. Its gigantic frame is a stark contrast to its roly poly genes, and its pink and tan toned hard shell gives a nod to the being’s prehistoric ancestors.
Though the creature looks like a grenade of historic lineage—able to withstand the test of time untouched—coming across the specimen in an unnatural way exposes its vulnerability to destructive fishing practices.
Deepsea trolling, the practice of clean sweeping the seafloor with a net for commercial fishing, captured the isopod from its dark and empty home at the bottom of the ocean.
“I think (trolling) is horrible and not sustainable, but as a byproduct of that they’re pulling things out of the sea by accident that they don’t have a market for, but I do,” Coleman says. “I get a thrill out of those things that come through the store, like those specimens that you wouldn’t normally see. Plus, it’s a way for us to start educating our customers about what’s happening in the fishing industry.”
Another store item that demands attention is a taxidermized unborn fawn.
With a small crown atop its head, the fawn may be petite, but serves as a mighty symbol of the diseased venison industry.
In the open plains of the Midwest, Chronic Wasting Disease has become an epidemic among farmed deer and has spread to naturally occurring deer in the surrounding area. The condition causes the degeneration of the brain and results in abnormal behavior, emaciation and, ultimately, death.
“I hear from the other side of the room a lot like, ‘oh how sad,’ and I sort of have to present myself and let customers know it’s not, ‘oh how sad,’ it’s just a thing that’s happening in our world today. It’s about making yourself aware of it,” Coleman says.
However, while the isopod and fawn definitely demand attention of curious shoppers Coleman says, “they are just two things in the shop presented in order to bring a little of nature’s pure wonder into the store, embellishing the hundreds of other art pieces that surround them.”
The handful of shocking items in the store is balanced with more delicate works like handcrafted jewelry, sculptures, paintings and prints.
The gallerist said one of the most historic artforms in the gallery may not be as shocking, but still has a deep-rooted history that presents yet another peculiar and noteworthy story of our world.
A company based out of the basement of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Italy, is also home to one of the world’s oldest active apothecaries.
Officially selling products to the public since 1612, the pharmacy has a withstanding history creating perfumes, candles and soaps from natural ingredients. Though the world around the church may have changed over the centuries, the way the products are produced remains the same, and is considered a sustainable practice to Coleman.
“That’s the type of thing I steer people toward because it’s got the history and it’s well known, but still special,” Coleman said. “It may not be as weird as a crystal carved into a skull or some of the other items we carry. I mean this is art with a story behind it.”
From impressive sculptures and historic soaps to just about everything else one could think of, Gold Bug is giving guests a chance to see that not everything is what it seems. Coleman encourages shoppers to come in the gallery of wonders with an open mind, ready to ask questions about why the pieces have a spot in her store.
34 Union Street, Pasadena