Theodore RoszakThe Great Moth
pen and ink, ink wash, and pencil
68 7/16 x 28 7/16 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation
A giant moth rises triumphant atop a curving tree trunk that pushes through a threatening tangle of spiky, flame-like forms. Moths are attracted to flames and often fly directly into the light, burning their wings and killing themselves. This deadly attraction has been used as a metaphor for passion that at once beautifies and destroys, but Roszak's moth of the mid-1950s could easily allude to atomic power with as much potential for good as for utter destruction.