Ideas often incubate for a generous amount of time for me before they become tangible. The Mepkin Abbey mosaic butterfly is no different. Ever since my sister passed away twenty years ago, the butterfly was a symbol of her presence. We would see her at family picnics, in our backyard, at weddings, at the cemetery. I know we are not alone in placing meaning on this tiny lovely insect in a place where our loved ones should have been. As a mosaic artist I have always had in the back of my mind the idea of creating a mosaic butterfly in some permanent setting to honor that memory.
In addition to being a mosaic and ceramic artist, I also teach and am the Fine Art Department Head at Cardinal Newman School. My job is pretty fantastic. I work with some wonderfully dedicated people and the students are incredibly talented and well mannered, usually. We do have our days, though, and after a particularly eventful and stress-filled week, with elbows on the desk and head cradled in my hands, I decided this was the summer I would make a retreat at Mepkin Abbey.
Several months before during the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, my mother-in-law died unexpectedly and 6 weeks after that my mother passed away. The gravity of these changes was heavy. I knew I wanted to mark their passing somehow with an art piece as they had always been very supportive of my art making. A month before my mother passed, she and I drove out to Mepkin from Charleston for the 2016 Crèche Festival. This year I had three pieces on display and she marveled at each one. (No matter how good or bad your work might be you know your mother is going to love it!) That was our last outing together. She fell on Thanksgiving Day and at 96 her little body could not recover. On December 31, 2016 she passed away.
Retreat, Mosaic Butterfly, Artist Residency all took shape in the months after that – with the catalyst being that particularly exhausting week at school. I knew Mepkin Abbey would be the place for it, somewhere near the columbarium. Thankfully, I was able to gain permission from the Abbey through Father Guerric whose trust in me fueled my desire to make something beautiful and appropriate for the setting. In many cultures the butterfly is seen as a personification of the soul. In Irish lore, a butterfly seen at a cemetery means a soul is at peace. Additionally, the transformative nature of this creature reminds us of our own metamorphosis from child to adult and body to spirit in the hands of God. It is my hope that the butterfly sculpture brings a spark of joy and sense of calm to those that come to Mepkin Abbey to mourn, to recharge, to be transformed or to just rest. It can hold deep meaning or not. Its job will be to provide a respite even if for a moment to those who wander that way.