Butterflies are a powerful symbol of transformation and have the ability to make an impact with just a flap of one’s wings. They are beauty incarnate, symbolizing all the good things that humanity can picture, while reminding us that life is fragile and that human dignity is delicate.
But more compelling and more critical is the butterfly’s role as a potent symbol of hope, telegraphing humanity’s potential in a simple, elegant idea. Over the course of 20 years, The Butterfly Project has fired the imagination of millions of people and has resulted in the creation of more than 1.5 million stunning butterflies, handmade in every conceivable material, color and form.
Created by children across the globe, the butterflies evoke powerful emotion. They create a chain reaction that changes the way people feel, then challenges the way they think and finally, inspires them to act.
Kicking off at Neiman Marcus in The Galleria, the butterflies are now bringing their message of hope to locations throughout Houston in honor of the 20th anniversary of the project. A selection of those inspiring creations is now on display at the Museum in one of the most important art exhibitions ever displayed as part of “Taking Flight: The Butterfly Project.” The exhibit will remain on view through July 31, 2016.
Beginning March 11, six traveling displays will go on view at various public spaces around Houston throughc 2017. For locations and viewing hours and additional information about the displays, visit www.hmh.org/butterflies.
While the physical butterflies will be in Houston at this time, the message is universal and it’s global: Humanity is at a turning point, one where we have to choose hope or hate. The project exists to show the potential our future can hold if we focus on our commonalities and celebrate our differences.
In addition to the tour, the Museum has produced a beautiful coffee table book commemorating 100 of the most imaginative, powerful butterflies submitted. "Taking Flight" is available for purchase at the Museum Store or online at www.hmh.org.
The project was inspired by the 1964 publication of a poem by Pavel Friedmann, a young Czech who wrote it while in the Terezin Concentration Camp and ultimately died in Auschwitz in 1944.
In a few poignant lines, “The Butterfly” voiced the spirit of the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust.
In 1996, it inspired staff and supporters of Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH) to launch the project.
HMH designed the project to connect a new generation of children to the children who perished in the Nazi era. Three educators designed activities and lesson plans to convey to students the enormity of the loss of innocent life.
The Butterfly Project found a deep resonance, stirring creativity and compassion around the world. Students learned about the experiences of children during the Holocaust through the study of poems and artwork created by children imprisoned in the Czech town of Terezin.
Maintained by the Nazis as a “model ghetto” and transfer point, it later came to be known as the German concentration camp Theresienstadt. Few children survived Theresienstadt or any other camp.
To demonstrate this random and pervasive loss of life, teachers walked students through a special butterfly project. Students would receive the name of a child from the Holocaust era and then create a butterfly to commemorate that child and his or her life. Filling the rooms with beauty and color, the butterflies were often suspended from the classroom ceiling. Over a period of time, seemingly at random, teachers would remove a butterfly to represent a child who had perished.
Students would return to the classrooms day after day to see if “their” butterfly had survived or perished. Finding that their butterfly had disappeared, the students were shocked, saddened and frequently angry when they learned the fate of the child with whom they had come to identify.
Word of The Butterfly Project spread through the efforts of the Museum and by word of mouth from students and teachers. Students made butterflies of all sizes and dimensions from every available medium. They wrote poetry and letters and created newsletters and journals. They also wrote scripts for plays and videos in which they performed.
Butterflies began to arrive at the Museum from groups of all ages and descriptions as an outpouring of emotion and remembrance. Day care centers, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, businesses and corporations, individuals, hospitals, retirement communities, faith-based groups, anti-genocide groups, art clubs and sewing guilds all participated. A group of felt artists in Germany submitted beautiful felted butterflies along with this message: “We created these butterflies in response to the rise of antisemitism we see now in Europe.”
Butterflies arrived from Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, South America and Europe as the project inspired people around the globe. One butterfly even arrived from space. American Astronaut Rex Walheim participated in The Butterfly Project in July 2011 while aboard the final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis. He created his butterfly in memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust and in honor of Israeli Astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died tragically with six other crew members during the re-entry of Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003.
This exhibit was made possible in part through the City of Houston's Initiative Grant Program of the Houston Arts Alliance and is generously underwritten by the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and the Houston Jewish Community Foundation; United Airlines, official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston; Arts Brookfield, which represents Allen Center properties; Cadence Bank; Brazoria County Historical Museum; Enterprise Products Partners, L.P.; Memorial Hermann Hospital, sponsored by the Christensen Building Group; The Emery/Weiner School, sponsored by the Kvetchers Bike Group; Harmony Schools; the William P. Hobby Airport, sponsored by Neiman Marcus; and Texas Children's Hospital.
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