Since ancient times the butterfly has been a symbol of new life, resurrection, and immortality. I’ve heard that early Egyptians saw a similarity between the butterfly’s cocoon and burial wrappings for mummies and that ancient Greeks put butterflies in tombs. Christians adopted the butterfly as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. A caterpillar disappears into its cocoon and seems to die, emerging some time later transformed into a beautiful butterfly. Christ died and was buried in a tomb, rising on the third day and appearing to his disciples in a glorified body. The butterfly still signifies the hope of all who are baptized that they too will be raised from the dead to live with God forever. Thus the butterfly remains an apt symbol for resurrection and a favorite Easter motif.
Over the decades of our stained glass work we have made several windows with designs based on butterflies. Our earliest work was usually representational.
Jay was initially inspired to create a butterfly window for temporary installation during the Easter season. The design was based on a monarch butterfly and its chrysalis, very familiar to us in rural South Dakota since the larvae feed on readily available milkweed. Gold beading on the green chrysalis makes it an attractive stand-out among most other butterflies’ rather drab pupae. Along with Fischer (German) mouth-blown glass, which comprised most of the window, Jay incorporated sheet copper for the dark areas of the butterfly’s wings. He coated the copper with solder and added a dark patina.
Completed in 1978, the large framed panel first hung in the Newman Center at Dakota State College, Madison, South Dakota. (A Newman Center is the site of the Catholic chapel and activity space on a college campus.) Afterward the center’s chaplain purchased the 43″ x 33″ panel for his personal collection.
A couple years later Jay used a butterfly image to experiment with open space within a glass panel. He set off a multicolored butterfly with a circle and, except for the butterfly itself, left empty the rest of the space within the circle. This panel hung at the Dakota State Newman Center during the fifty days of Easter in 1980. In June, 1980, “Easter Butterfly” was part of an exhibit of panels created by Stained Glass Association of America members at the Kemper Gallery in Kansas City, Kansas. There a master glass craftsman commented that it was the first example he’d seen of open space within a stained glass panel. “Easter Butterfly” was purchased by a private collector but not before it inspired a butterfly window commission.
In early 1982 a couple asked us to design a window in honor of their son and in thanksgiving for his progress at what was then known as the Crippled Children’s Hospital and School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They specifically wanted the window to show a butterfly and chrysalis as a representation of the new life that emerged in David during his time at the school. The school board approved the donation for installation in a new reception area then under construction. We installed the window and participated in its dedication in June. That was the end of the school year when David moved on from residence at the Crippled Children’s School to continue his education in regular schools in his hometown.
Looking back in our records I see that Jay and I have both been inspired to make other designs based on butterfly wings. Those are stories for another day.