Orcan Swallowtail (2015)

(Update: I didn't know in the making that this metamorphosis-oriented piece would spawn other series, in the process finishing the natural arc of the Sky House series.)

 One big difference between working on the series in Bali and here is that once again I have access to my own paper making setup, so I’m able to create high-shrinkage, translucent flax fiber paper in a gorgeous spectrum of colors, in shapes and sizes resonant with the work.

Applying my creative sensibilities in response to given settings readily evokes new forms and approaches. In this case, the owners wanted to invite in some curving, organic lines to counterbalance the straight lines and angularity of their home. And, poignantly, they wanted the piece to memorialize a family member who had recently passed away young and unexpectedly.


The piece called for a sense of rebirth, of earth releasing into sky. As I contemplated the space and the role of the piece in it, an image of a butterfly fluttered right in. In many cultures, the butterfly is associated with soul, transformation, and transcendence. Along with its fitting form and symbolism, it seemed a fine expression of their dear one’s spirit. (see more on this...)

Orcan Swallowtail could have been created without the cages, yet a couple of factors ushered them into the design: Their relatively straight, repetitive lines reflect those of the house, presenting an opportunity to meld them directly with more sculptural elements. And, with their rounded form, they also suggested a pupa-like contained space, from which the wings could outstretch in transcendent release.


To underscore the feeling of emergence, I wanted the antennae and wing tips to protrude into the main living area. This position required more light at the lower end of the short stairwell, so I added another “pupa” cage piece, this one with the wings just starting to emerge.

With the power source at the location of the lower wall piece, I curved a cloth-covered wire up to the butterfly, lending a literal arc to the evolution from containment to freedom.

Along with the bamboo birdcages, Orcan Swallowtail is made of copper, flax and mulberry paper, natural resin, beeswax, mineral pigments, wood, waxed linen thread, and brass wire cloth.