Welcoming Butterflies, 2007
I worked for two years with both High School and Elementary students in rural Bentleyville, in Southwestern, PA creating a memorial sculpture garden. Three students had died accidentally, separately, but over a brief period. During that same time three teachers had passed away as well. The whole small community was grieving and the Joy Gazi, art teacher, thought of doing a memorial project to connect their experience with cycles of life and other cultures.
During the first phase, high school seniors created the final designs for three mosaic sculptures based on my idea of combining three fanciful Gaudi –inspired mosaic shapes covered with shards of items donated by families to represent lost loved ones. Each sculpture would be topped with a ceramic butterfly. We called it Welcoming Butterflies because in Mexico, since ancient Aztec days, migration of the monarchs at the time of the day of the dead, caused them to associate the return of the butterflies with the souls of their departed loved ones. During this time the second grade students were raising monarchs in their classroom and studying butterfly lifecycles. With some assistance from the high school students, I laminated Styrofoam sheets, carved the shapes, and covered them with mortar.
In the second phase, I worked in the elementary school with students applying the ceramics to the surface of the sculptures. Everyone pitched in to make this massive effort successful. Families donated stones from their farms and properties to landscape the installation. The dedication was a truly cathartic event for the entire community as students released butterflies and family members eulogized their lost loved ones.