Butterfly Sculptures Taking Flight Across Joplin Ahead of Tornado Anniversary

The butterfly representing a metamorphosis, a rebirth, is seen as the perfect symbol for Joplin's recovery.

by Emily Younker, The Joplin Globe, Mo. / April 17, 2016

(TNS) - Butterfly sculptures are beginning to pop up around Joplin as a way to mark the fifth anniversary of the May 22, 2011, tornado.

Nearly two dozen sculptures, sold by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and crafted by Forged Waterjet Fabrications, will be on display around town by next month in conjunction with other anniversary events, said Tonya Sprenkle, the chamber's vice president.

"When we started looking at what theme did we want to carry forward, a butterfly immediately came to the top as No. 1," she said. "It kind of represented a metamorphosis, a rebirth; we thought it embodied a positive influence and something beautiful that we could display."

The butterfly's significance

Mason-Woodard Mortuary and Crematory, 3701 E. Seventh St., installed its butterfly on its front lawn last week. Co-owner Kim Woodard said it was important to the staff to be part of the project as a way to honor the families they had served in the weeks after the tornado.

"It was so hard for those families to have to endure that, and of course we're on that front to take care of those people, and it impacted us very much professionally in that we've never encountered anything like that in such a magnitude," she said. "It has always left an impression on us and our staff. That was why it was so important for us to purchase a butterfly."

The mortuary's butterfly was painted in vibrant colors by Jason Brookshire, who lost his grandmother, 75-year-old Ellen Jeanette Doyle, in the tornado. Her services were handled by Mason-Woodard.

"It has a lot of significance to us to have that out in front of our building," Woodard said. "The butterfly is a beautiful creature and has the significance of evolution and morphing into something great, and we also included an angel onto our butterfly because we thought that our city was protected by angels during that time."

Brookshire, who does custom paint jobs primarily for vehicles, said he painted a kind of "reverse rainbow" on the butterfly and also painted the pole to resemble wood grain.

"I really took my time and made it real meticulous; I wanted to do the best job on it I could," he said. "I had fun doing it, and it was for a good cause."

A butterfly with green and gold wings has been installed near the campus oval at Missouri Southern State University. In the days and weeks after the tornado, the university — which lost one of its Spanish professors, Jose Alvarez — acted as a triage and supply distribution center as well as a temporary shelter for those who had been displaced.

"Missouri Southern responded to the tornado unlike any other university that we're aware of has done in the face of natural disaster," said Cassie Mathes, director of university relations and marketing. "This place mobilized quickly, and students and staff from across campus worked to help those in need. The anniversary of the tornado is significant to us."

The sculpture was designed and decorated by Alicia Zustiak, a senior visual arts major from Joplin. She covered the wings with glittery paper in Missouri Southern's official colors and then coated them with clear varnish.

"I chose a glitter medium because I knew it would be out in the sun, and I wanted it to sparkle," said Zustiak, who worked in the Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store at 20th Street and Range Line Road at the time of the tornado. "It shines just enough without blinding people as they walk by."

Although she is still adding the finishing touches to the sculpture, Zustiak said she is pleased with how the butterfly turned out.

"I wanted it to look nice to respect the people who went through the tornado," she said. "I wanted it to look good to honor them."

Other butterfly sculptures

Butterflies also will be displayed at Mercy and Freeman hospitals.

"We're proud to support the Joplin Proud efforts to celebrate the accomplishments of our community on this five-year anniversary of the May 22, 2011, tornado," said Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin, in a statement. "Sponsoring a 'Spread Our Wings' butterfly as a permanent sculpture on our new campus at 100 Mercy Way reminds us of all the hard work and dedication of those who helped us rebuild.”

The butterfly, decorated with a broken-china mosaic in the colors of the Mercy cross by Springdale, Arkansas-based artist Vanessa Ryerse, is expected to be on display in the hospital gallery May 9-12 for National Healthcare Week before being installed in its permanent outdoor location, said Katy Cook, the hospital's community relations manager.

"The unmistakable imagery of broken dishes being assembled in mosaic suggests the gathering of the community to rebuild and move forward after the devastation of the tornado," Ryerse wrote in her proposal application, a copy of which was provided to the Globe by Cook. "The use of everyday items such as dishes is an important and relatable medium — everyone uses dishes. Those dishes hold memories and represent the universal experiences of the people of Joplin living their everyday lives. Though interrupted by the tornado, the memories remain and are given a place of value."

The Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, 2808 Picher Ave., a component of Freeman Health System, will host a butterfly that was donated by the Quapaw Tribe and Downstream Casino Resort, clinical director Kristy Parker said. It is decorated in the style of a Western shirt, the signature garment of noted autism spokeswoman Temple Grandin.

"Our original facility was a complete loss in the storm, and we've gone through a long rebuilding process, and we just felt like it was a great way to commemorate our building and how far we've come in our program," Parker said.

Parker said the plan is to have the butterfly installed by May 21, when the autism center — which is along the route of the Joplin Memorial Marathon — will host a water station for marathon runners.

Lasting impact

Proceeds from the butterfly sculptures will help fund the Joplin Disaster Recovery Summit, which is slated for May 19-20 at Missouri Southern. The summit is one of several events being organized for the fifth anniversary by the Joplin Proud Committee.

The chamber, in partnership with the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, will create a flier or map before May 22 that will list where the butterflies are located, Sprenkle said.

She said the intention is that the sculptures that have been installed could remain there for as long as the buyers want them to.

"These become long-term pieces of art, so when we designed ours, we designed them out of aluminum that should last," Sprenkle said. "They may need a touch of paint at some point, but we hope that people will do the maintenance on them to keep them looking good."

The chamber also plans next month to introduce a line of smaller butterfly sculptures that will be available for purchase by businesses or individuals, she said. No price has yet been set, and more information will be available from the chamber in the coming weeks.

More butterflies

Several children who survived the May 22, 2011, tornado reported seeing images of "butterfly people" that they said protected or aided them during the storm, Joplin city officials have said. Those experiences were later depicted in a 2013 song titled "Butterfly" by country recording artist Tracy Lawrence. A mural, "The Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight," also features butterflies. It is at 15th and Main streets.


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