Brynn Spaltenstein, 3, of Las Vegas, discovers a butterfly in the Las Vegas Historic Plaza Park that is part of the Highlands University Art Club’s temporary public art installation. Photo by Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
LAS VEGAS, NM ― More than 2,000 colorful biodegradable paper and sheet metal butterflies are fluttering in Las Vegas, thanks to a public art installation by the Highlands University Art Club.
The students received a grant for the project from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs Art in Public Places T.I.M.E. program, which stands for Temporary Installations Made for the Environment.
“Our idea is to include public art into everyday life in the community,” said Mary Miller, a 21-year-old Highlands fine arts senior from Las Vegas. “We chose butterflies because part of the theme is a temporary exhibition and butterflies are very fragile with a short life cycle. Our goal is to bring happiness to people through art.”
Miller and Francisco Cordova co-wrote the successful grant for the Department of Cultural Affairs funding. Cordova, also of Las Vegas, completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in June 2018 from Highlands.
“The butterflies are a dynamic symbol for life, peace and harmony within our community,” said Cordova, who is 23. “When people see the exhibition, I want them to think about being kind to one another both locally and globally.”
The butterflies can be spotted along the National Avenue corridor from Carnegie Library Park through the Highlands University campus across the Gallinas River down Bridge Street and ending at the Las Vegas Historic Plaza Park. They are attached to buildings and poles with art exhibition putty, stapled to trees, and attached to signs and other locations with colorful pipe cleaners.
Miller and Cordova said there’s an environmental and ecological component to the art installation.
“As a pollinator, butterflies are essential to our ecosystems, but in recent times the overall population has seen a dramatic decline,” Miller said. “The fragility of the species is mirrored in the fragility of the temporary installation. We’re converging the environment and art.”
The students cut the larger-than life-sized waterproof paper butterflies by hand. They worked in the Highlands art foundry to hand cut and paint approximately 60 sheet metal butterflies for the installation. The paper butterflies are within reach, but not the metal ones.
“We installed the metal butterflies out of touch on poles and other locations for safety reasons because the metal is sharp,” Cordova said. “We painted them in bright kindergarten colors of blue, red, purple, yellow, orange and green.”
The students expect some of the paper butterflies will be picked up and plan to install more after the Las Vegas Fiestas.
“It’s rewarding to see people’s reactions to the butterflies and children playing with the paper ones,” Miller said.
David Lobdell is a Highlands fine arts professor and adviser for the Art Club along with fine arts faculty member Shereen Lobdell.
“I think the students’ public art proposal and their work is fabulous,” said Lobdell, who chairs the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Highlands. “They showed strong initiative in submitting for grant funding and executing the project.”
Other Highlands fine arts students who worked on the butterfly installation include Adolfo Castillo, Martina Gallegos, Pablo Apodaca-Pecok, Ashley Pitrucha, Mary Rose Henssler, and Robert Henssler.
Lobdell said the team of fine arts students collaborated well.
“This is the kind of teamwork that artists in the real world need to demonstrate in a joint project of this scope,” Lobdell said.
The Highlands art students and faculty will collect the butterflies from the public spaces in September.