<em>Wings of Desire</em> - The Art of William H. Howe

[![][1]][2]In 1941, as the U.S. entered into World War II, 13-year-old William Howe was busily filling sketchbooks with remarkable renderings of butterflies, as a student at the West Coast Institute of Arts and Crafts in Berkley, California.Later that year, William's father Edwin hastily moved the family away from the coast, in order to protect them from potential bombing by the Japanese. After a brief stay in Lawrence, the family settled in Ottawa, Kansas, which - as fate would have it - was directly in the path of the annual monarch [butterfly migration][3]. William's infatuation with butterflies began at an early age. As he tells it, the defining event of his childhood occurred when his father, who was an entomologist working for the USDA, brought home a cage full of caterpillars and left them on the dining room table. Over the following days, William watched spellbound as the striped caterpillars metamorphosed, first forming chrysalides and then emerging as elegant black swallowtails.From this experience grew a lifetime passion for the gossamer-winged insects. Howe says, "My fascination with butterflies has been welded into a lifelong avocation that has commanded both my spirit and my labors. But it isn't a scientific interest. The scientific problems I leave up to the experts. Sitting under a microscope in an office doesn't appeal to me. It is the emotional experience of catching a butterfly and the reward of being able to use my paints to capture it on paper or canvas. I do this for one reason - it's fun. And most jobs are not fun, I have found."At 77, Howe continues to paint everyday in his small apartment in Ottawa. All of his paintings are made from observing actual butterflies (he never paints from photos), many of which he has collected on his 83 trips to Mexico. Today, he is one of the country's most admired butterfly artists. His paintings are in the collections of museums around the world including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. His authoritative book "Butterflies of North America" (out of print), illustrated with 2,033 watercolors, is hailed by many entomologists as the greatest volume ever published on butterflies of this continent.[![][4]][5]I first saw William Howe's paintings in 1991 at the [Plum Tree][6] restaurant on Iowa Street. They may have clashed a little with the Chinese decor, but Howe has always used popular restaurants, offices, and other retail businesses to show his work. The advantages of these venues over galleries are, that they have a captive and frequently changing audience, and usually no commission on sales. I continued to spot Howe's curious and original paintings over the years, like "Butterflies Greeting Columbus," and always wondered what the artist who created them was like.Then in 2004, we met. It was in Ottawa, at the house that he'd lived in since 1941, where I interviewed him about his mural depicting monarchs migrating through Chase County, that he was restoring in the old Middle School cafeteria. That first meeting led to others where, over slices of blackberry pie and coffee at his favorite restaurant, we discussed organizing a show of his paintings in Lawrence. That show, Wings of Desire - The Art of William H. Howe, [opens Saturday][7] and [continues through March 29th][8] at the Olive Gallery. At 7pm on Saturday (March 4th), Howe will give a short talk about his work and sign copies of his first book "Our Butterflies and Moths" published in 1964.[![][9]][10]The paintings in this show represent the wide range of approaches Howe has taken to his life-long subject. There are trompe l'oeil portraits of butterflies hovering slightly above the canvas. There are carefully composed families of butterflies, rendered like Audubon, in their natural settings. There are the paintings, Howe often calls 'surreals' or 'abstracts,' where his mutable subjects become vehicles for storytelling and abstract design. And being exhibited for the first time, are Howe's figurative and narrative paintings which explore his personal and political concerns.All of these paintings reflect William Howe's devotion to craft and reverence for nature. But his paintings are about much more than studied technique and patient observation - they are deeply felt personal statements, that illuminate the fragile and quiet life of both butterflies and the man who has rendered them with such affection. [1]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/loewenstein/flybook.jpg [2]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/loewenstein/flybook-lg.jpg [3]: http://www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/fallmap.htm [4]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/loewenstein/colum.jpg [5]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/loewenstein/colum-lg.jpg [6]: http://www.lawrence.com/places/plum_t... [7]: http://www.lawrence.com/events/2006/mar/04/13207/ [8]: http://www.lawrence.com/events/ongoing/12080/ [9]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/loewenstein/wings.jpg [10]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/loewenstein/wings-lg.jpg


tomking 12 years, 3 months ago

Hats off to you, Loewenstein--you curated and organized a terrific show.

Kookamooka 12 years, 4 months ago

Why is there a naked, Chuck Norris in that painting? He's clashing with the butterflies.

space_rabbit_kerosene 12 years, 3 months ago

I was William's neighbor for a few years back in the mid 90s. Although I never saw him catching butterflys completely naked, on a few occasions I did see him wearing only a pair of boxer shorts while brandishing a butterfly net: early summer morning rituals that reminded me a bit of some kind of slow movement martial arts. Though the naked guy painting is possibly a potriat depicting and idealised rendering of himself, in actuality he looks nothing like Chuck Noris. My friends and I would often sneek into his back yard at night to smoke a bowl as it was peacefully unkept with nice tall grass and a cool old barn. Our trespasses were completely benign I might add. He seems like a thouroughly authentic old wingnut: interesting and kind fellow.

spot 12 years, 3 months ago

It's my understanding that ruddy, naked men are not uncommon in some of his work.

Chris Tackett 12 years, 3 months ago

I once read that monarchs migrate because Chuck Norris lets them.

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