Butterflies at White River Gardens - CODAworx

Butterflies at White River Gardens

Submitted by Mettje Swift

Client: Indianapolis Zoo

Location: Indianapolis, IN, United States

Completion date: 2015

Artwork budget: $56,800

Project Team


Mettje Swift

Banner Art Studio


Rod McComas

McComas Engineering

Interior Designer

Jo Hohlbein

Indianapolis Zoo Creative Services


Andy Peirce


Design and fabrication of a public outdoor installation of twenty three butterfly sculptures. Made of nylon cloth and stainless steel tubing armatures, the sculptures are installed on poles attached to the ground and brackets on the exterior walls of White River Gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo. The light translucent tapestry of the butterflies are abstract representations of butterflies from around the world. Twelve butterflies mount on six stainless steel pipe Y shaped "trees." The butterflies are eight to nine feet each. Eleven wall- mounted brackets hold one sculpture each of approximately seven to eight feet.


The commission goal is to announce the exhibit of live butterflies from all over the world at the Indianapolis Zoo which opened in March of 2013. Following on the successful installation of the Butterfly Kaleidoscope mobiles in the adjacent Conservatory as part of the butterfly exhibit, Mettje responded to an RFP and presented a proposal for an exterior installation intended to add color, motion and create an attractive draw for visitors to the White River Gardens. The goal was an installation of grand proportions to engage people in the butterfly exhibit. The President of the Indianapolis Zoo was intent upon creating an innovative and outstanding installation that would be memorable to all viewers.

Part of the installation includes the work of Yves Lanthier, a trompe-l'oeil artist, whose vision drove some of the decisions about choice of butterfly representation and repetition of pattern and shape. The works needed to be complementary. The mural is installed on the wall of White River Gardens rotunda in conjunction with the butterfly sculptures on the exterior of the building. The intent was to make it seem as if the butterflies were flying into the building.


The collaboration between Jo Hohlbein, Creative Services Director at the Indianapolis Zoo and Mettje, the artist, was a close connection in which both had a mutual understanding of the intent of the project. The idea was to create a colorful installation of butterfly fabric art to attract visitors to the exhibit, to energize the space and increase attendance – both for the Butterfly Kaleidoscope Exhibit and for the Zoo at large. To that vision was added Mettje's close collaboration with welder, Andy Peirce of AMPeirce Cycles, Rod McComas of McComas Engineering who completed the final engineering specifications for the poles and the wall mounts as well as the stand-offs holding the sculptures. The specifications were created from drawings developed by Mettje whose inspiration came from early sketches Jo made. Mettje studied early sketches by Yves Lanthier in order to make the two installations work together. The butterflies have motion, the structure is sound and the mural backs up the overall intent of the installation. The team at Banner Art Studio is incredibly important to Mettje's work. While she is calculating pipe and tubing sizes, drawing patterns, deciding colors, they handle the fabrication of the tapestry of the work.

Additional Information

In any installation there is a progression of the idea, the purpose, and a conjunction of colors and shapes that tease the human eye. The colors and color progressions from one butterfly to the next was very challenging because the individual pieces are physically far from each other and yet the color progression had to be unified and work with the vision of another artist. Jo Hohlbein was the final artist in this installation.