Priceless--if it's a mural of a realistic monarch butterfly, teasing you with a strip of masking tape, a chunk of a child's lined notebook paper, and a stack of rich, textured heritage bricks.
Every time we see artist Myron Stephens' mural at 238 G St. downtown, Davis, Calif., it reminds us of the dwindling population of the magnificent monarchs, captured in a painting that's literally off the wall.
Off the wall in a good way. This amazing mural makes you think. You stand on the curb, seeing the KetMoRee Thai Restaurant sign, but not really seeing it. You're too engrossed in the wall mural. You move closer, closer, closer. You're a photographer zooming in on a subject, and then the monarch is all you see. It captures your attention, just like the photographer captures an image of a butterfly in flight.
It's a mural with a message. You just have to figure out what the message is, which is what the artist wants you to do. He's toying with your memories, provoking your thoughts, gifting you with his art. Then you read the title, "Hidden Treasures."
A treasure, to be sure. Hidden, not so much.
Stephens describes himself on his website as "an artist who appreciates life and the gifts that he has been given. His work reveals this appreciation as an extension of himself, an unfolding of his experiences, and an opportunity to share his enjoyment of life with the viewer."
“The method of creating each painting is just as important, if not more, than the subject," he says, this time in first person. "My work is not conceived and then simply painted, but it is more of a process. It is a dialog of past, present, and future. Conversations with my wife and friends often show up in my work, along with nostalgic American iconography, and contemporary imagery often painted from photographs I've taken along the way.”
The mural is part of the Davis Transmedia Walk, described by its city officials as the first of its kind in the country. It's comprised of more than 40 public sculptures and murals throughout the downtown arts-and-entertainment district.
And all the art is within walking distance.
But when you get to 238 G St., you don't want to walk.
You want to fly--just like the butterfly.
But such was the case Monday, Jan. 21 for butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
See, Shapiro sponsors the annual "Beer for a Butterfly" contest to see who can collect the first white cabbage butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento. A noted butterfly expert, he's been monitoring the butterflies of Central California for more than three decades and maintains a website, Art's Butterfly World.
Shapiro has sponsored the "Beer or a Butterfly" contest since 1972 to draw attention to the first flight of the butterfly. He awards the winner--usually himself!--a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
This year he netted the first white cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) on President Barack Obama's Inauguration Day, Monday, Jan. 21. Perhaps coincidentally, he also caught the first white cabbage fly of 2009 on President Obama's first Inauguration Day--Jan. 20.
“The constitution mandates the swearing-in for Jan. 20, though it does not require Pieris rapae to emerge on that date,” Shapiro quipped.
“Thank you, Mr. President!”
For the record, Shapiro caught the 2013 winner near railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County, and the 2009 winner near railroad tracks in Davis, also in Yolo County. (Shapiro’s first catch of 2013 was actually on Jan. 1 at the same West Sacramento site, but “it was a slopover from the fall brood.” Thus, he declared the contest still under way.)
Now the contest is over and Shapiro says that since “Pieris rapae is out, I can ‘stand down.’ It’s now officially spring.”
He declared it spring, and so it is.
Now, the big question: Will Professor Shapiro share his beer with the President?
“I'd be delighted to buy Obama a beer," Shapiro said, "but I suspect he has better things to do with his time!”
The Gulf Fritillary butterfly is one of the showiest butterflies in California, says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis.
Indeed it is.
The bright orange-red butterfly with a wingspan that can reach four inches visited our back yard yesterday. It nectared the lantana and sedum, competing for the sweet treats with honey bees, sweat bees and leafcutting bees.
Last year we planted a passionflower (Passiflora) vine (larval host of the Gulf Fritillary). None came. No butterflies, no breeding site, no little orange-and-black caterpillars to chew the passionflower leaves. We removed the vine and replaced it with vegetables.
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is even more beautiful when it folds its wings. Then you can see what makes this butterfly so utterly breathtaking: the iridescent silvery spots.
Shapiro says this is a tropical and subtropical butterfly, with a range extending from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. It appeared in southern California in the late 1800s, and was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
Like to attract this butterfly? Its larval hosts include passionflower vines, such as the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), blue passionflower (P. caerulea), and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). As an adult, it nectars on such plants as lantana (Lantana camara), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), drummond phlox (Phlox drummondi) and something called "tread softly" (Cnidosculous stimulosus).
"Tread softly" is also a good idea if you're trying to photograph it. It's a very skittish butterfly and the slightest movement will prompt it to take off.
But if you wait patiently, the fluttering orange flash will likely return.
What a treat to see the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutullus) gliding into a patch of ookow (Dichelostemma congestum), also known as wild hyacinth.
A recent outing to Healdsburg, Sonoma County, found the tiger on the ookow.
The colors were perfect: the bright yellow butterfly bordered in black visiting the delicate purple flower with light yellow stamens.
Fortunately, the Western Tiger Swallowtail cooperated with the photographer by lingering in the flowers. He perched, wings open, then fluttered away.
Him? Yes. UC Davis butterfly expert Art Shapiro knows his butterflies.
He also knows his "hims" and "hers."
Butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs and honey bees.
What exists in nature is replicated in art.
We sculpt them, draw them and paint them. We create their images on everything from clothing and jewelry to quilts and stepping stones. We never tire of their shapes, colors, textures and the extensive variety.
Many replicas find their way into exhibits at county fairs.
We saw more than a dozen "insects" today in McCormack Hall at the Solano County Fair, Vallejo. A butterfly morphs into a quilt. Another butterfly yields its shape for a stepping stone. A honey bee transforms into a keychain. Dragonfly and ladybug decorations glide and crawl among the exhibits.
The 60th annual event, set July 22-26, is themed "Raisin' Steaks" but it's also raising awareness of nature.
And why not?
Insects reign supreme in sheer variety and abundance. Scientists have recorded some million insects to date. Millions of others await identification. In total volume, there could be as many as 200 million insects for every human on the planet. They're all around us.
Interesting that we seek beneficial insects for our gardens, but the "revolting ones" we set aside for horror movies.