Few Fly As Once Upon This Land

·  The Butterfly Collector  ·

The artwork above represents the numbers of butterflies found where I live at the time of my birth.

The image below shows the number of butterflies that live today in this same place, an 80% decline.

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I have loved butterflies since childhood, and I was fascinated by the large boxed collections I was taken to see by my aunt Merlyn at a local museum.

During the summer months it seemed that every street corner shop sold bamboo sticks that had a small colourful net attached to the end. I liked the idea of being close to such beautiful creatures, but I was concerned about how so very delicate they were, and how easy it was to damage them. I therefore decided that I would only observe them. If I stood patiently they would land on my arms and head as they fluttered close to the strong scent of buddleia and meadow flowers. The blue Chalk Hill was my favourite, but each was beautiful, and I was in awe of their metamorphic change from one form to another.

In the long summer school holidays I was fortunate to see so many species: Adonis Blue; Brown Argus; Brown Hairstreak; Chalkhill Blue; Comma; Common Blue; Common Brimstone; Dark Clouded Yellow; Dark Green; Dingy Skipper; Duke of Burgundy; Gatekeeper; Grayling; Grizzled Skipper; Holly Blue; Large blue; Large and Small White; Marbled White; Meadow Brown; Old World Swallowtail; Painted Lady; Papilionidae; Peacock; Purple Emperor; Red Admiral; Silver-Washed Fritillary; Small Blue; Small Copper; Small Heath; Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary; Small Mountain Ringlet; Speckled Wood; Swallowtail; Small Tortoiseshell; Green-Veined White; White Admiral; and the Wood White.

That such small creatures would routinely travel up to 30 miles (48km) over their short two to four week lifetime was magical to me. Later I would learn that the butterfly had in some form or another lived for over fifty million years, and that the Painted Lady that I watched take off in the bright sunlight from my hand would go on to journey 2,500 miles (4,000 km) to subtropical Africa, and yet there it was, fluttering into the blue sky just above me...

I have created a series of 100 butterflies, some related, and all unique. Like their real world counterparts, they do not move and are but a shadow of the butterfly that flies, pollinates, and forms an important part of the food chain where I live. The presentation of butterflies in a grid reminds me of those collections I gazed at as a child, but unlike those that I had always felt as subject to cruelty, artworks allow me to ponder their beauty and value without sacrificing their lives for human pleasure and understanding...

The following image represents the catastrophic decline in butterfly population where I live caused by habitat loss and climate change that has occurred since the time of my birth. My hope with this artwork is that the next time a butterfly comes close to you, you might perhaps value and care for it a little more than you may have otherwise. Each and every one of us can act well as custodians of the earth, and butterflies, despite being so vulnerable, fleeting, and fragile, can inspire us to build a better world.

The final image is a full size extract from the artwork.