Friday, January 2, 2009

Kaleidoscope of Butterflies

A New Year's Eve party provided serendipitous introduction to the artwork of Marshall Hill hanging on our friends' living room wall. Butterflies, a single layer deep gracefully arranged in ascending kaleidoscopes, barely contained from entering the room by the clear edges of a Lucite box.

I am not unbiased in my appreciation as I collected armies of caterpillars, clusters of chrysalis and swarms of butterflies growing up. As an adult, this passion continues. I even named one of my projects at work "Chrysalis". So I was delighted to see butterflies used as a medium of expression.

What makes this art and not natural history? After all, butterflies are also arranged in insect display cases in the Natural History Museum and Conservatories of Flowers, but in rows and columns, not kaleidoscopes or swarms, in cabinets in public institutions, not in homes and living rooms, in cases edged in black stuffed with a pinning base, not seemingly uncontained by invisible edges, displayed with no attempt to teach, only inspire, selected for color and scale, not for familial relationship.

Can anyone do it? Is the brand defensible? On concept alone, no. It is imitatable, such as those by Rainbow Hill Farms which are just as artfully arranged. However, Marshall has a few extra things going for him that defend his brand. Collectors, such as Dame Maggie Smith and Sarah Jessica Parker, a New York City address in South Street Seaport, a storefront which indicates a certain level of success/ability to pay the rent, and critical acclaim: "The most famous artist in the world to workwith real butterflies and Lucite" -New York Magazine.

For those worried about sustainability, the butterflies used in the artwork were raised on farms which turns out to be a good thing. In the wild, only 7% of the eggs survive. In farms, the survival rate is 70-90%. Butterfly farming helps preserve the rainforest by offering an alternative source of income in renewable resources. (Thanks to Rainbow Hill Farms website for the education.)

Now all that remains is to decide which of the beauties to buy!

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