Heaven Is Full Of Butterflies
by Nicole Freire
It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. ~Kojiro Tomita
About five years ago I fell in love with an elderly man named Howard Connor.
It happened purely by accident. I was at Paseo Nuevo one afternoon and wandered into SB Arts to look at handmade earrings. I never got to look at the handmade earrings or the scarves or the sculptures or the greeting cards. Not even the handmade soap! No, I spent about twenty minutes staring at the ceiling, falling in love with a mobile made by an artist named Howard Connor. My neck got a horrible crick from holding it at such a bad angle but it was worth it.
To the right is what I was entranced with.
But some art can be pricey - as it should be. Some art is worth the seemingly large price tag because of the work that goes into the piece. This is why I like to buy handmade earrings and soap. I get a little bit of art for a price I can justify.
I am extremely lucky that my mother is an artist and so the walls of my house are filled with her paintings and sculpture. I have two giant canvases from her painting days in the early 1960's, and smaller, more recent paintings and sketches, and these really lovely dolls. Not creepy dolls, beautiful dolls, made of paper mache and talent that would drive most people to drink.
I can't imagine life without art. I like to see it, and I like to touch it (this got me into tremendous trouble in Holland in 1989. Note to self; resist the temptation to touch the Van Gogh painting.) I like to stare at it.
Every once in a while, I would go back to SB Arts and look at the mobile again. They changed colors and shapes occasionally as people would buy one and it would be replaced by another. I would sigh, look at the price tag, and sigh again. Then I would go back to staring at the mobile and wishing that I could buy one. Or that I could justify the expense. But there were things like car payments and tuition, and oh, food and gas. Not artful expenditures.
Mostly it was enough to go into the store and stare at it for a while. It must have been what prison visits are like, short but sweet. Or cupcakes. Those are short but sweet too. I think that's a better analogy. I liked to go and visit ?my' mobile and dream about having one.
One day I went to Paseo and headed straight for SB Arts, only to find it gone.
I was a bit panicked. I knew the artist's name but Google wasn't giving me any results I liked when I typed in "butterfly mobile". I couldn't find my mobile. Finally it occurred to me that maybe SB Arts had to move. So I made a series of phone calls to the administrative branch of Paseo Nuevo. They might have been disappointed that I wasn't going to rent a storefront, but they kindly told me where SB Arts had moved, over to La Arcada.
I called SB Arts on the phone. "Do you still carry those butterfly mobiles? The really beautiful ones?" Reassured that yes, they still had the butterfly mobiles meant I could continue visiting one.
Then I turned 39 and my campaign began.
"Holy cow, I turn 40 next year! What a big birthday that is. What a milestone."
"Guess what I would love to get for my 40th birthday? One of those butterfly mobiles from SB Arts."
"Do you know what I just love? These butterfly mobiles I've seen at SB Arts."
"Wow, 40 is coming so fast. A great gift idea? How about one of those butterfly mobiles? You know, the ones I've been mooning over for years."
"Please, I don't want anything for my birthday except for the mobile."
I received some lovely 40th birthday presents, a trip to Seattle from my sister, a bracelet and a scarf from some friends, beautiful yarn from my daughters, lots of love and birthday wishes. But then I opened a card from my parents and my husband. There wasn't anything in the card, just a blurry picture of butterflies.
I burst into tears.
I had to wait a few weeks because Howard Connor is 92 years old (I think, he may be in his late 80's but DUDE he is still making ART) and every butterfly is painted and cut out by hand.
Last week the mobile arrived.
Howard (maybe I should call him Mr. Connor because I don't think he knows about my big art crush on him) gives very specific instructions as to how to transform the seemingly tangled clump of butterflies and how to hang the mobile once it's all set and even which kind of light bulb to use to light it.
One of the magical parts of this butterfly mobile - and there are many - is that there are some butterflies whose paint is iridescent and can only be seen when the butterflies gently turn under certain types of light.
It hangs right above my spot in the bed (left hand side if you are in the bed, right hand side if you're standing at the foot of the bed and wondering how I get out bed without tripping over the giant and very messy pile of books and magazines and a few knitting projects) illuminated by my bedside light and I have spent more than a few hours simply lying on the bed and looking at it.
I made you a movie. Be entranced.
I'm not the meditative type because my hamster-like brain never shuts up, so I can't concentrate on my breathing, but after a few minutes of watching this beauty unfold I get very calm and my brain chatter seems to quiet down.
It is quite possibly the most exquisitely lovely thing I have ever owned. I still pinch myself when I walk into my bedroom and see it gently twirling above my bed. I am giddy. I still have the box it came in and so far have resisted all suggestions that perhaps it should go into the recycling can now?
It is, without a doubt, the best birthday present I have ever received in 40 years. Thank you Mom and Dad and Steve and Howard Connor.
If you want to see one, I'd love to invite you all over to my house and lie on my side of the bed but that might get too weird and I'm not big on cleaning, so here's what you can do instead:
Take yourself down to SB Arts at La Arcada. Ask the nice staffers where the Edhat t-shirts are kept (you do need one) and as you make your way into the rear of the store, you'll walk right under one, gently twirling and twinkling, and then you will get your t-shirt and hold it in your arms as you stare at the mobile some more.
Resist the urge to touch it though; those butterflies are light as a feather.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.