What began as a moment of awe and wonder has turned into 21 years of joy for San Mateo butterfly artist Steven Albaranes.
After seeing a floor to ceiling display of butterflies at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences, Albaranes “just fell in love with them.”
He began to seek out places to purchase butterflies en masse, so he could create pieces of art with them and preserve their beauty. After trying and failing for more than a year, he finally landed upon a technique that allows him to open the wings of deceased butterflies without damaging them.
When Steve receives them from the breeders, their wings are closed. The challenge is to open their wings and individually attach them to clear acrylic pegs.
He delicately places the iridescent and boldly colored butterflies onto a clear base in a pattern that flows with the rhythmic movement of a silent flight, wings frozen mid flap. The amazing part of this process is that the butterflies are not "treated" in any way.
Other than opening their wings, and putting a clear acrylic cover over them, Steve doesn't do anything to preserve them. In the 21 years he's been creating these pieces, not one has degraded signifigantly.
Fellow artists took notice of his work and suggested that he sell it at art and wine festivals. The success he found inspired him to leave his career as an eyewear salesman and pursue one as an artist.
“I can make a living doing this and I enjoy it more,” Albaranes said.
He has since created one-of-a kind pieces for the store fronts at both the Tiffany & Co. in San Francisco's Union Square and the Neiman-Marcus at the Stanford Shopping Center for undisclosed amounts.
The ones he sells online come in a variety of sizes and price tags. A small cube called "Sarah" is 7"x7" and costs $175, while a 18"x 32" piece called Rainbow Flight is priced at $1,950.
All of the butterflies Albaranes uses in his art are imported from commercial breeders in South and Central America, who raised them in large, net covered pens that protected them from predators. After living a life span of about 30 days, the dead butterflies are collected by workers and graded in a system similar to diamonds.
“I only use butterflies that have been graded perfect, no rips or tears.”
Albaranes' will display his latest works from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. July 16 and 17 at the , which will take place on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.