Reborn, Shiny and Beautifulby Jacqueline Bull November 2, 2017
The Butterfly Project has come a long way from the collaboration of a teacher and a ceramic artist setting out to create one butterfly for each child killed in the Holocaust (1.5 million). Ceramic artist Cheryl Rattner Price began chronicling their journey and turned their story into an award-winning documentary that has touched people, classrooms, even concerts all over the world.
The project began in San Diego and is coming back home for the next wave of impact. “We were in a lot of other places and then recently we’re doing so much more here. It’s pretty thrilling for me actually. It feels like a full circle,” Cheryl said.
She invited me to their first ever screening at a university, which they held at the University of San Diego. After the screening, the guests were invited to join the movement and paint their own butterflies that would later be displayed on campus. “I think our most important work is the work on college campuses. It’s a scary time on college campuses. I’m really excited to do this here and have it be a model,” Cheryl said.
Something special about the project and watching the film is there is an immediate step an individual can take to participate. “I think people feel a natural desire to help us reach our goal,” Cheryl said. She adds that the simple thing of painting a butterfly has connected with people of all ages in a fairly profound way. “I feel like what happens with the Butterfly Project is that people need to slow down enough to take a beat and think and connect. They are painting a butterfly, they’re reading a short biography of a child and the butterfly is being made for that child. And each one is so unique – an individual. We really say the power of one person to make a difference is the center of everything that we want to convey. And so my butterfly has a different mood or feeling [from someone else’s]. It doesn’t matter if one butterfly is prettier than another. Every one of them belongs as a community,” she said.
Cheryl was first approached as the artist to make the butterflies and is still involved in making and firing them in the kiln. She explained that the experience is metaphorically significant. “The butterfly has gone thru fire. It is a painful metaphor. As we did the project over the years, I was responsible mainly for most of the firing. I would be walking around with this cart of all these butterflies stacked on top of each other and it felt awful. And I was like ‘I’m going to get to the kiln. I’m going to put these in and they are going to come out and they are going to be reborn, shiny and beautiful’. Each one of them was made for some intention of a better world. And that happens when I open the kiln and I see these finished butterflies,” she said.
The project is going strong with its involvement in classrooms, and the team hopes to one day have a communal installation. “We want very much to have a public installation in San Diego. We are very aware that we don’t have a Holocaust museum. We don’t have a Jewish museum. We would love to see Balboa Park or Liberty Station have something that could be public, not just Jewish people, and be exciting and an art magnet for visitors.”
At the event, the screening filled up the theater; students, professors and people from the community got to work painting butterflies. I was able to snag Cheryl for a quick word at the end of the evening. I took out my camera and showed her the butterfly that I painted and she smiled and told me my butterfly was one of the few left that were designed by Ela Weissberger, the Holocaust survivor that was interviewed for the film. Slightly stunned, I said goodbye to Cheryl, and as I was leaving, I overheard a woman very quietly say to Cheryl, “Now is the time for this. Now is the time.”