The butterflies perch by the hundreds on the walls of the DeVos Place Convention center, as if this building were their warm winter refuge. If you look closely you see that the coloring and shape are just like the real monarchs you see in Michigan in summer. But you also notice that the wings are very thick—that is because they are made of cast bronze.
The sight of so many monarch butterflies in one place evoked in me—and I am sure in many other visitors—the same joy as is experienced when seeing their beauty in the wild, and—almost inevitably—reminded me of the wide spread concern for the possible disappearance of the real butterlies.
The numbers of monarch butterflies have declined by as much as 80% in recent years according to some sources. Suspected causes include deforestation in Mexico—the Monarchs’ winter refuge—and climate change. In my state of Michigan, as well as in other northern areas, the sharp decline of milkweed plants due to herbicide use has surely reduced monarch numbers. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs and on which the caterpillars feed.
So this beautiful ArtPrize entry needs little interpretation for most people. The readily recognizable subject immediately conjures our love for natural beauty—especially the beauty seen in small, delicate animals—and it stirs our concern for the environment and our worry about the growing threats to many species of animals and plants.
Environmental concerns notwithstanding, witnessing “The Butterfly Effect” in person is a very positive experience. The artist explained that in casting 1234 individual butterflies, he intended to create “a symbol of joy, remembrance, beauty, and hope.” He says, “The number 1,234 stands for growth in all those positive things, including the Monarch itself.”
While I was trying to get some photographs with my little camera, Bryce Pettit was holding a single bronze butterfly in his hands and explaining to my wife and my sister that he had applied the patina by hand to each butterfly. He let them each hold the piece for themselves.
Before we left his exhibit, I too held a single butterfly. I was surprised by its heft. It was cast bronze after all. Ironic, I thought, that such lovely, almost light-as-air creatures had become so weighty in this art form. The butterflies flit from flower to flower—seemingly weightless—but the very real threats to their fragile existence are reason for weighty thought.