Big fiberglass butterflies make summer migration to Whitehouse

Downtown art project aims to attract visitors

6/11/2013
BY ROSA NGUYEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Molly Wachtmann of Whitehouse and her grandsons Luke Yokum, 9, left, and Matthew, 12, center, inspect a newly erected fiberglass butterfly in Whitehouse. The trio examined each butterfly in town.
Molly Wachtmann of Whitehouse and her grandsons Luke Yokum, 9, left, and Matthew, 12, center, inspect a newly erected fiberglass butterfly in Whitehouse. The trio examined each butterfly in town.

Fiberglass butterflies have migrated to Whitehouse for the summer.

Decorated with items including bottle caps and aluminum cans, the butterfly behemoths spread their three-foot wide-wings along Providence and Waterville streets, perched on poles around downtown. Installed under the Wings Around Whitehouse Butterfly Project, the 27 fiberglass insects are an effort to beautify the village.

“The downtown has suffered and has been neglected,” said Barbara Knisely, Whitehouse Community Development Coordinator and the project mastermind. “I think [the project] will bring lots of visitors to Whitehouse, and all the downtown businesses will be affected.”

The project draws inspiration from earlier public art displays, such as Toledo’s frog sculptures and Maumee’s 55-pound fiberglass fish. Ms. Knisely chose the butterfly because of the village’s proximity to the Butterfly House — a greenhouse featuring more than 1,000 species of butterflies — and the Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, which cultivates blue lupine flowers to attract endangered Karner blue butterflies.

Seeking sponsorship, Ms. Knisely sent 200 letters in August, 2012, targeting businesses and organizations in Whitehouse, Maumee, Swanton, and Waterville.

The result was 26 sponsors purchased 27 butterflies for $395 each. And 25 of them have been installed since late May, alighting in a 1.25-mile loop. Each butterfly has a name on a plaque beneath it.

A newly erected mosaic and fiberglass butterfly stands near the DiSalle Real Estate building in downtown Whitehouse.
A newly erected mosaic and fiberglass butterfly stands near the DiSalle Real Estate building in downtown Whitehouse.

Whitehouse unveiled the butterflies Saturday in its park. Festivities included radio-controlled boat races, a performance by The Free — an old-time rock and roll band, and art and face-painting activities. Whitehouse Mayor Angela Kuhn introduced local artists and sponsors who contributed to the butterfly project, including 18 businesses and five schools.

Cherry Tree Bakery & Cafe submitted “Buttercream,” a black-and-red concoction of kitchen spoons, whisks, and toaster parts. The underside of the butterfly is plastered with recipes, photocopied from local church cookbooks.

“We wanted to create a butterfly speaking to the fact that we’re a bakery, but the underside gives a nod to the people of the community,” said Katie Voss, bakery owner. “I’m digging through the list of recipes and I’m like, ‘Oh! This lady comes in all the time!’ We can say, ‘Your potato salad recipe is on our butterfly — check it out.’ ”

A Whitehouse Art Advisory board member, high school art teacher Carrie Flagg, persuaded the Anthony Wayne school district to purchase three of the butterflies, representing the high school and Whitehouse and Waterville primary schools.

High school students modeled their design after their mascot, General Anthony Wayne, and contributed an additional wooden butterfly. Whitehouse Primary School kindergarteners and first graders stuck thumbprints on their butterfly, while older children scrawled flowers, cupcakes, and initials on bottle caps attached to the wings.

The colorful critters will brighten the area until late September when sponsors may reclaim their creations.

“Anytime you’re giving art to the community it's a wonderful thing,” said Brenda Clixby, who painted three butterflies. “When you see an art display like this, you just see that the community pulls together.”