Butterflies & Beyond: A moving exhibit comes to La Jolla’s Gotthelf Gallery

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

The Butterfly Project was created in 2006 to memorialize the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust. This month, in collaboration with the project, the Jewish Community Center’s Gotthelf Art Gallery in La Jolla invited 24 San Diego artists to explore the theme of transformation and the idea of the butterfly as a metaphor for the human spirit.

More than 100 viewers, including most of the artists, filled the gallery at the March 12 opening of “Transformations: Butterflies & Beyond.” Many of the pieces were striking interpretations of the theme, with interesting stories behind them.

Shana Lew’s dried-flower sculpture “It All Depends on How You Look at It” began with a book of drawings and poems by Jewish children in the Czech concentration camp, Terezin. One of the poems, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” was the inspiration for The Butterfly Project. “I took a teeny drawing from the book and used it as the basis of my piece,” Lew said.

Stacy Mann wrote a poem to accompany her watercolor “Flight,” which was pinned to the wall with the kind of pins used for mounting butterflies. “Breathe in,” the poem began. “Transformational in body and blood/Fire and ash rising on the wind ...”

“I started with lungs, which transformed into wings and became a Holocaust piece,” Mann said, pointing out the crouching figures in the lower corner of her painting and the smoke rising at the top.

In “Chrysalis II,” Cheryl Tall used different types of materials — fired clay, tree branches, and bits of an antique handkerchief — to show the fragility of life and the endurance of the spirit.

James Watts enclosed three treasures in “Beauty Within”: a heart and brain made of alabaster and a painted tin brain, each almost life-size, in its own metal container. “I wanted to show that beauty’s on the inside, like a butterfly in a cocoon,” he said. “And this piece is two-thirds of the Wizard of Oz!”

Patricia Frischer talked about her “Butterbear,”saying “I was at Berkeley in the 1960s when we put flowers in the soldiers’ rifles. This guy’s rifle is tipped with a butterfly made of Popsicle sticks, and the whole thing is covered with metal. The figure is a German art deco war piece, and on top there’s a child’s teddy bear being saved by an inner tube. The idea is you need to be a bear to survive, and you need metal covering for protection.”

Sandra Berlin-Kroll said her ceramic “Chrysalis” was actually three chrysalises in one.

“One is in the shape of a heart, whose colors go from dark to light,” Berlin-Kroll said. “The red is the murdered children, with their half-broken wings, and the third is a barbed wire form with a butterfly-shaped hole in it.”

Carol Korfin’s glass-and-metal butterfly tree was one of the first pieces in the show to be sold.

“I just started glass art six years ago, after I retired from insurance sales,” Korfin said. “I dabbled in art before then, but after one class in fused glass, I said, ‘That’s it! I’ve found my passion!’ ”

In her piece, Korfin explained, “One butterfly represents the Jews of Israel, the other is the Jews of the Diaspora, and there are 18 Jewish stars — 18 is ‘Chai,’ the symbolic number for life — representing the souls of all the Jewish children who died in the Holocaust.”

Vivian Ressler, who with her husband, Jeffrey, co-sponsored the exhibit, showed a watercolor of two girls who died at Auschwitz. “They were my first cousins,” Ressler said. “We have a photo of them. My family left Hungary for Cuba in 1936; my father’s relatives who stayed behind were all killed. I left the painting of these girls unfinished because they never got to finish their lives.”


“Transformations: Butterflies & Beyond” is on view 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday-Friday (closed Saturdays) through May 28 at Gotthelf Art Gallery, Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive. Free. (858) 457-3030.