OGDEN — Who knew one insect could draw so many people together?
A nationwide art project dedicated to spreading images of the monarch butterfly across the country is making a stop in Ogden this month and next. The Migrating Mural project is the brainchild of artist Jane Kim and her business partner, Thayer Walker. The two co-founded Ink Dwell Art Studio, in Half Moon Bay, California, six years ago.
“We create art that inspires people to love and protect the natural world, focusing on large-scale public installations,” Walker said.
Ink Dwell’s current focus is a series of murals involving the life cycle of the monarch butterfly — murals that are scattered in seemingly random spots around the country:
• A caterpillar and array of monarch butterflies on the side of an eight-story-tall air traffic control tower at the airport in Springdale, Arkansas.
• Images of the iconic butterfly and plants on the facade of a building at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.
• Monarchs flitting about a patch of butterfly weed on the wall of a building in downtown Orlando, Florida.
And now, three monarch butterfly installations being added in Ogden.
The Ogden portion of the project began with a series of banners created by Kim for the Ogden Nature Center, illustrating the story of the monarch’s life cycle. The banners are already finished and flying at the center.
Kim recently moved to the second phase of the Ogden art project, where she’s currently painting a huge outdoor mural at the newly restored Monarch building in Ogden. The piece is created in the style of the optical art movement from the 1960s.
“This one we’re doing on the Monarch Building is really cool,” Walker said. “This is something Jane’s wanted to do for awhile. The black-and-white spots of the monarch reminded Jane of the op art movement, and it’s a very unique piece. She’s never done anything like it before.”
The mural is scheduled to be dedicated at 1 p.m. Sept. 22, during the Harvest Moon celebration. The Monarch building is on the southeast corner of 25th Street and Ogden Avenue.
Kim and her team will then move on to the third and final phase of the Ogden installation — creating a monochrome mural in the Kimball Visual Arts Center at Weber State University. Kim will present a lecture at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 in the center’s Lindquist Lecture Hall on campus.
Kim says she loves the idea of connecting people to a place, in real time, in “a large and beautiful way.”
“It’s amazing how connected we are with a single species,” the artist said. “The monarch butterfly migrates through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. It’s remarkable that we can have this one beautiful insect in common.”
Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Kim says she’s been “absolutely obsessed and inspired by wildlife and nature” since she was a little girl.
After receiving her bachelor of fine arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in printmaking, Kim went on to attend California State University, Monterey Bay, where she studied scientific illustration. It was while migrating herself — doing a lot of long-distance driving as a student at CSUMB — the idea began to take shape.
“While driving, looking out at the landscape, I’d see a billboard here and a sign there,” she recalls. “And I thought it would be interesting if I saw things that told me more about the natural world.”
Sheep to insects
The first phase of the Migrating Mural project involved a series of murals of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, created along a 120-mile stretch of U.S. 395 in California.
This second Migrating Mural phase, launched last September, focuses on the monarch butterfly. Kim says they chose the butterfly for both its broad range and fragile state on this continent.
“That first one we did, the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, was a very localized sub-species of bighorn that only lives in the Sierra Nevada,” Kim said. “With this next one, we wanted to think of scale — not just to connect a region, but a continent.”
Kim said the monarch tells an important story about how interconnected we all are, and how much we all share.
“There’s a lot of discourse about how different we are these days, so it’s important to take time to celebrate the things we share,” she said.
And that’s what Kim finds so beautiful about nature. There are no boundaries, no state lines or international borders in ecosystems.
“Those are all placed there by people,” she said. “We’ve created these guidelines within our own structures, but they don’t actually exist. The butterfly doesn’t think, ‘I’m now in Texas, and I’m going to travel to Montana.’”
A natural fit
Walker said that in today’s political climate it’s easy to get caught up in one’s own echo chamber and end up with an “us-vs.-them” mentality. But he says if Ink Dwell can created a sense of shared wonder through these murals, there might be other things “we can share and build together.”
“What we’re really trying to do here is create this common ground,” he said. “Everyone can appreciate monarch butterflies, no matter what your political or religious views are.”
Ogden was a natural fit for the monarch project, according to the Ink Dwell partners. According to Kim, the butterfly separates into two populations — the eastern and western monarchs — with the Rockies being the dividing line. And while data on the western monarchs isn’t as robust as for its eastern cousins, Utah is an important place for the left-side butterflies, which overwinter on the California coast and down into Baja California in Mexico.
“Utah represents something incredibly important during the spring and summer months for the western population,” Kim said.
Walker said they were attracted to Ogden by the city’s “real movement to create an arts district here.”
Thaine Fischer is the managing partner and developer for the Monarch building. He heard about the Migrating Mural through contacts at WSU.
Fischer had been involved with another mural, two years earlier, at the Peery Apartments near 25th Street and Adams Avenue. He says he had a good experience with that one, which “brought vibrancy to the area at a time it was not a good place.”
So when Fischer was approached about the Migrating Mural project, he jumped at the chance. Indeed, Fischer had been all set to rename the building the Hodgson — after well-known architect Leslie Hodgson, who designed such iconic Ogden buildings as Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden High School, the Ogden municipal building, and the U.S. Forest Service building. And then the butterflies came along.
“I said if we call it the Hodgson, but paint a butterfly on it, everybody is going to call it ‘the butterfly building,’” he recalls. “So we just called it the Monarch.”
At roughly 300 linear feet, the new mural will be eye-catching to say the least, according to Fischer. Between 7 and 16 feet high at times, the mural runs along a wall and parking deck at the site. The mural isn’t being painted directly onto the Monarch, since it’s a historical structure.
“It’s our building at the epicenter of Nine Rails (Ogden’s recently designated creative district), and we said ‘Let’s do something big, let’s be bold and progressive,’” Fischer said. “So we’ve set a great flag in the ground that says Ogden’s new creative district is here to stay.”
The Monarch should be open and occupied by next spring or summer, according to Fischer.
Network of butterflies
Walker said he and Kim are planning on focusing on the monarch butterfly motif for three-plus years. The Weber State mural will represent Ink Dwell’s seventh installation in the first year — “which is way more than we’d anticipated,” he said.
Walker said they’d eventually like to create 15 to 20 of these monarch murals in places around the U.S.
“It would be cool to have a network of these across the country,” he said.
And Kim hopes to extend her murals into Mexico and Canada — the same range as the monarchs.
The artist says her goal is just to use her murals to beautify and unite people.
“Bringing communities together, that’s why we do what we do,” Kim said. “And it’s important that this be in the public realm rather than galleries or private residences, because it’s for the people. We need something beautiful like this that we can all celebrate.”