Get ready for the butterflies

Published 12:35 am Sunday, October 5, 2008

The butterflies are coming!

Local artists have transformed more than 40 wooden butterfly sculptures into unique works of art, set to emerge downtown this week.

Their debut just before Tale-Tellin’ and Riverfront Market Day weekend will not only reaffirm Selma as the “Butterfly Capital of Alabama” but hopefully initiate downtown renewal through the arts.

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“Selma: Taking Flight to Greater Heights” is all about “harnessing the artistic energy here in Selma to begin revitalizing our town, particularly the downtown historic district,” said Steve Grossman, chairman of the Dallas County Arts Alliance.

The five-foot-tall wooden sculptures are as unique as the artists’ and their sponsors’ imaginations, some painted in detail according to a particular theme, others embellished with abstract strokes, papier mache and bright colors.

Artist Joanna Nichols chose a “Gems of Earth and Sky” theme for her sponsor, Butler-Truax Jewelers. The butterfly features a swath of colorful gem stones at the base of its wings and soft scenes of butterflies, caterpillars, cocoons, flowers and grass. The backs of the wings portray night and dawn.

Sister Judith Kaiser, art director at the St. Edmund Learning Center, along with assistant Keyonsis Olds painted polka dots in bright autumn colors. Then, they used sponges to dab more dots between the larger circles. A wide, black border emphasizes the swallowtail shape of the wings, and after the paint dried, they added touches of gold glitter.

Cam Walker and Shirley Baird are Selma natives who both studied art in college. Walker is an art teacher who prefers impressionistic painting, and her butterfly is titled “The Migration of Impressionism.” Baird returned to her hometown in 2005 and enjoys abstract watercolor. She is well known in Montgomery where she previously lived and is a member of several art societies including the Alabama and Georgia watercolor societies and the International Society of Experimental Artists.

Baird described the butterfly she is painting for Henry Brick Company as “evolving. I don’t usually enter things with a definite plan. I like to push the paint around and see what happens. I love to relate colors and shapes to a composition that’s pleasing,” she said.

More than 30 Dallas County artists and art groups participated in The Butterfly Project. They also include Charlie “The Tin Man” Lucas, widely known for his primitive folk art and sculptures; and several student groups in schools and churches.

The grand unveiling is Thursday at 5 p.m. with ceremonies in Lafayette Park on Water Avenue. After the unveiling, the butterflies will be on display at least until January.

Selma became the “Butterfly Capital of Alabama” after the Selma Federation of Garden Clubs, led by local beautification and conservation proponent Mallieve Breeding, campaigned with other groups to convince the city to conserve butterflies. They next persuaded Alabama legislators to declare Selma the butterfly capital, and in 1982, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail became the city’s mascot. In 1985, the legislature declared April 16 to be “Save the Butterfly Day” statewide, and in 1989, the butterfly became the state’s official insect.