Butterflies on the loose at Lyman Allyn museum

Old Lyme artist Brian Keith Stephens has transformed the Glassenberg Gallery at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum into a magical butterfly forest where the larger-than-life creatures in eye-popping colors flit about, surrounding the viewer with their dazzling beauty.

Titled "Catch the Butterflies," this is not your typical red-and-green-themed Christmas show, and yet it elicits all the heartwarming joy and childlike wonder that the holiday season is meant to be about.

Stephens, along with Pola Esther, with whom he collaborates on many projects, constructed the installation out of more than 100, 14-foot scrolls of highly reflective metallic Mylar that hang densely together in the modest space.

Stephens silk-screened the front of each scroll with literally thousands of butterflies in fluorescent colors that come to life under the black lights he installed around the ceiling.

The backs of the scrolls were left blank to create the sense of even more butterflies in the reflections - and so that viewers can see themselves as part of the exhibition, traveling through the forest of brilliant color.

The exhibition was inspired by Stephens' love of butterflies and visits to various butterfly houses and gardens, including The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory in Florida.

"Standing in an enclosure full of butterflies has an electrifying energy because your sense of space and depth condenses as the creatures flutter closer to you," Stephens points out. "This is precisely the feeling I wanted to conjure with my butterfly forest."

Butterflies are symbolic of different things in all different cultures and have fascinated people around the world throughout history, Stephens notes, stating, "It's probably because they go through such a transformation, which not too many other animals do. They go from caterpillar, completely into a cocoon, and come out completely another creature. We're all kind of searching for something, and in a way, a butterfly is a great symbol of that."

"I believe in the thesis that butterflies are good for you," Esther adds. "That's why I'm absolutely loving this project. People say, 'Eat carrots, they're good for you. Don't eat that, it's bad for you.' This is a mantra of something that is good for you - (expressed) in an abstract way."

Stephens and Esther rented a 15,000-square-foot area in Stonington's Velvet Mill and filled the entire space as they constructed the butterfly forest over several months. And yet, Esther says, because of the thin, lightweight Mylar that they used, the entire project fit into five rolls in the back of Stephens' car to easily transport to the museum.

"It changes the whole environment of the room - it completely transforms it," Esther says.

"I wanted people to meander in different directions," Stephens says. "I wanted to dissolve the walls and the space so you can get lost a little bit like in a carnival funhouse."

Stephens, who has young sons, imagines the exhibition as a family-friendly experience.

"I was thinking a lot of the children because it's really fun," he says, "but on the other side, it's really interesting to see if the adults will like it, too because you never know - adults have so many more hang-ups and everything. I think children will really enjoy it because it's a completely different space and they wouldn't expect that. Hopefully, it will be fun energy for everyone."

As an added playful, interactive touch, Stephens created a wall of cards, hanging in the museum's lower level with a silk-screened butterfly on each. The cards contain a hidden message - a word or two - that's revealed under the black light when visitors brings them upstairs to the exhibit.


Enchanted Butterfly Tea Parties will be held on Dec. 7 and 14 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the museum. Participants will be served tea and cupcakes, tour the "Catch the Butterflies" exhibition, design and paint their own 3-D butterfly and go on a scavenger hunt. The cost is $12 per participant.

A talk entitled "Enhancing Landscape to Promote Butterflies" will be held Dec. 10 with a reception at 5 p.m. and presentation at 6 p.m. by Charles Boos, certified arborist and University of Connecticut master gardener. Boos will talk about the crucial role our landscape plants play in supporting local butterfly populations and how increasing urbanization has led to a diminished habitat for butterflies and other insects. Members: $5; non-members: $10

Reservations are required for both special events by calling the museum's visitor services at (860) 443-2545, ext. 129.



What: "Catch the Butterflies" exhibit

Where: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London

When: Through Jan. 4; the museum is open Tues.- Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun., 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: New London residents, members and children under 12, free; adults $10; seniors and students (over 18), $7; students under 18, $5

Info: www.lymanallyn.org or (860) 443-2545, ext. 129


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