If you drive around the City of Mission you might notice something a little special. Every once in a while, you might just see a beautiful butterfly sculpture. Being home to the National Butterfly Center, it just seemed fitting for there to be butterflies of giant size around town to celebrate. These butterflies represent some of the 200 or more species that can be found in the area.
What started as a small project in 2016 has now grown to over 40 sculptures throughout the City of Mission. I wonder if you can find them all.
Maxilou Link, a previous president of the Upper Valley Art League (UVAL), saw the vision years ago after a trip to Mexico. While in Mexico, she visited the well-known mountain destination migration site of Monarch butterflies.
“I was enthralled in seeing trees that didn’t look like trees because of how they were packed with the butterflies,” she said. “The Monarchs were like a cloud when they left their perches, landing on pathways and on the tourists’ head, shoulders and arms.”
She decided then that she wanted to do something to beautify the city that she lived in and loved. She began thinking of those butterflies and about how many of the species travel through the Rio Grande Valley during migration periods. The lower Rio Grande Valley is host to more than 300 species of butterflies, according to the National Butterfly Center. The Center has recorded over 200 species of butterflies.
About 40 percent of the 700 plus butterfly species that are found in the United States, can be seen in the three-county area of Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy. The southernmost tip of Texas, with its subtropical climate is ideal for the migrating butterflies, including rare types that draw visitors coming to the Rio Grande Valley just to see them.
Link originally hatched the idea during a sculpture class that was taught by locally well-known sculptor Douglas Clark. They discussed the idea of creating the butterfly sculptures and how they would beautify the city and draw attention to the center. It did not go over very well though during the first conversations.
In 2014, the discussion re-emerged, and with the support of Clark and UVAL, they were able to take a clay-like butterfly to then Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas. Pleased with what he saw, and after city council agreed, they had a Queen butterfly sculpture placed in front of city hall in 2016. The painted sculpture has a modification the other butterflies do not have. It features an extended leaf, making it is possible for an individual to sit next to the butterfly for a photo opp.
The base of the sculpture is made of fiberglass with intricate details of a branch tree bark and leaf. The body of the Queen Monarch is also fiberglass, from which a chrysalis dangles underneath, suspended by a steel cable. The antennae are made of flexible wire to reduce breakage.
The city followed with the purchase of 10 more, slightly smaller butterflies of the Monarch and other species. By 2018, there were 25 butterflies throughout the city. Today, there are over 40.
Link had been driving up and down Conway Avenue looking for good outdoor locations for these butterflies. The city, ultimately decided on the sites for the installations, and most of the locations were where Link had wanted them.
Throughout the project, Link invited individuals, businesses, and organizations to sponsor a butterfly. The cost is $550 unpainted, or $1,000 fully completed and installed. She had a catalogue listing types available that included the Barrel Slasher, Giant Swallow, Fiery Skipper and Tawny Emperor – as well as the popular Monarch.
Link found several student helpers from area schools and others interested in the project to help paint the sculptures. Automotive paint is used to protect against the sun and weather. While the base, leaves and body are all fiberglass, the wings are made of steel. Each butterfly is different in style and color.
Several Winter Texan Parks have butterflies including Oleander Acres RV Park, Fiesta Village RV Park, and Green Gate Grove. Fiesta Village’s butterfly is painted in the colors of the Texas and American flags.
I invite you to drive around the City of Mission and see if you can catch all the butterflies. Take pictures, share them with us. Let us know where you found it and if you know what type of butterfly it is.
I also invite you to play a game with your friends. See how many you can find, start a scavenger hunt and compare notes after a couple of hours. Have some fun.
Some of the butterfly locations:
Mission City Hall, 1201 East Eighth St., Monarch
SE corner of Conway Ave. and First St., Monarch
NW corner of Conway and Interstate 2, Zebra Heleconenian
Conway and Fifth St., Two Barrel Slasher
Conway and Tom Landry Dr., Malachite
Conway and 18th St., Red Admiral
SE corner Conway and Kika de la Garza, Cloudless Sulfer
SE corner Conway and Rafael Ramirez, Two Barrel Slasher
Speer Library, Giant Tail Swallow
500 East 9th, Swallowtail
Tom Landry and Miller St., Monarch
SW corner Bryan Road and Business 83, Fiery Skipper
So. island Bryan and Interstate 2, Tawny Emperor
Business 83 and Francisco Dr., Swallowtail
201 East Eighth St., Queen Monarch
Oleander Acres RV Park, South Conway Ave., Monarch
Others can be found at Taylor and Nolana,
Fiesta Village RV Park. 205 So. Stewart Road,
Green Gate Grove on South Bentsen Palm Dr., Ash St. Apartments,
Kika de la Garza Fine Arts Center (UVAL), 921 East 12th St.,
Retama Village, 2500 South Bentsen Palm Dr. West entry island to Mission,
Barcelona Estates, Stewart Road between Business 83 and Griffin Pkwy,
Entry to Lions Park at 1308 East Kika de la Garza Loop,
3813 North Taylor Road, Iglesia de Cristo,
Norberto Salinas Park, 115 East Los Indios