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20 North Main St (also enter on 224 Benefit Street) Providence, RI 02903

The museum is closed today.

Art & Design

  • Queen of the Insects: The Art of the Butterfly

    Costume and Textiles

    December 11, 2009 – May 9, 2010

  • Transformative, ephemeral, and otherworldly, the iridescent and fragile beauty of the butterfly has enchanted designers and artisans around the world for hundreds of years. Always fashionable, the butterfly motif has adorned a wide variety of design objects, from porcelain and prints to jewelry and textiles. Fragility of the butterfly perfectly suited to the textile arts, akin in materiality and texture. Luminous silks, brocades and metallic threads, alight the surface of the textile, like a butterfly on the wind.

    The works on display illustrate the universal impulse to capture the fleeting art of the butterfly. Juxtaposed with its often decorative usage in western design, the traditional symbolism of the butterfly in Asian art is explored and decoded as a design inspiration and as a material in itself. The human desire to preserve this resplendent and potent image of metamorphosis and rebirth has made it a universal design icon.

    To capture the essence of this elusive creature has proved a challenge to many— from artists to poets, musicians, and scientists. The careful observation and study of the natural world undertaken by all these professions alike, is a principal imparted on many a design student in their foundation studies, both for the RISD student today, and as was the case in 1917 as recorded in the text Jewelry Making and Design. An Illustrated text book for Teachers, Students of Design, and Craft Workers in Jewelry.*

    “Just as soon as the student is able to look at any part or unit of the butterfly and see in it endless possibilities in design he will never be hampered for ideas, he will see more possibilities in a single motif than ever before, and his pencil will not work fast enough to record these ideas.”

    Special thanks to Christina B & Kate from the Athenaeum


Selected objects from Queen of the Insects: The Art of the Butterfly