Skip to content

As part of the “Flight of Butterflies” initiative, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum will install SocialWorks’s 6-foot butterfly sculptures in city parks in July.

Each spring and summer, a bevy of swallowtail butterflies descend on parks in Chicago.

But this year, residents may notice some look a whole lot bigger.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences will place 29, 6-foot butterfly sculptures along the Magnificent Mile, in Lincoln Park, and in city parks on the South and West sides. The installation is part of a new initiative called “Flight of Butterflies,” which features an intersection of art, nature and storytelling.

Before the sculptures are dispersed throughout the city in July, they will be installed April 25 outside the museum at 2430 N. Cannon Drive. Local artists and community groups have designed the steel sculptures, which have aluminum wings and are modeled after the common eastern tiger swallowtail and the state-threatened regal fritillary species. They will remain in place until late next year.

The mission of the initiative is to connect people to nature, highlight the museum’s conservation efforts and share stories from a diverse group of artists from various Chicago neighborhoods.

“Our artists are some of our greatest ambassadors,” said Erin Amico, the nature museum’s president and CEO. “We are a city of so many stories. … And nature is something that impacts every single human being on this planet.”

Artist Ravi Arupa works on a butterfly sculpture.

In addition to partnering with the Chicago Park District, the museum worked with art consultant Cortney Lederer and ChiLab Studio, which built the sculpture forms and provided studio space for the artists. Tullman Community Ventures gave financial support.

The sculptures were created by both experienced and emerging artists, as well as community groups, some of which work with unhoused artists, people with developmental disabilities and youth. The designs showcase a wide variety of media, including acrylic paint, fabric, mosaic tiles, African beads and even blankets.

Through his sculpture, artist Ravi Arupa expresses the galaxy as a microcosm rotating into a spiral that extends into infinity, he said in a statement.

“I represent the way the spiral connects everyone and everything, from dense galaxies to delicate butterflies,” Arupa wrote.

Others, like the Englewood Arts Collective, used its sculptures to communicate messages about specific neighborhoods.

“It’s really just emblematic of their community, showing that Englewood is a beautiful community that has deeply impacted not only Chicago, but the world,” said Lederer, curator/project manager at CNL Projects.

Janell Nelson of the Englewood Arts Collective works on a butterfly sculpture.

Veteran artist Hector Duarte reflects on the history of his community in his sculpture.

“For him, so much of his work is this parallel of thinking through the migration of butterflies and also thinking about migration issues that take place between his home country of Mexico and other countries,” Lederer said.

One of the sculptures will live in the museum’s lobby. Designed by Ignite Studios, the work is a kaleidoscope of more than 200 glass butterflies. It was inspired by the museum’s Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, home to more than 1,000 free-flying butterflies representing more than 40 species.

“A lot of the work we do is monitoring [butterflies] and ensuring that we’re advancing the dissemination of scientific knowledge,” said Amico, who cited rapid loss of biodiversity and climate change as major threats. “And then working to re-release and increase populations of threatened, endangered or imperiled butterflies.”

Amico said people can learn how to get involved in conservation efforts by the visiting the museum.

And she said she thinks seeing the butterfly sculptures will inspire people to think about their own relationship with nature.

“That kind of curiosity and wonder is the catalyst for much bigger things,” she said.

Butterfly sculptures await the next stage in the production process in an artists’ studio.