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By Mark Pavilons
“Just as the bird sings or the butterfly soars, because it is his natural characteristic, so the artist works.”
– Alma Gluck
Butterflies are not only beautiful creatures, they are a measure of the health of an eco-system.
This important pollinator plays a vital role in our world, despite its short lifespan.
King artist Grazyna Tonkiel has had a love affair with butterflies for more than two decades. She celebrates their amazing form and colour through her vibrant art pencil and gold leaf creations.
Like the insects themselves, Tonkiel is helping to spread some vital information about these ecological stewards.
She will make a presentation about creating butterfly habitats at the Aurora Library in April. She will present tips on how to bring the beauty of this delicate creature into your into your own gardens, as well as learning about the place of the butterfly in our ecological environment. This presentation, slated for April 28 from 2-3 p.m., is the perfect prelude to the summer, and emergence of the butterfly.
Tonkiel recently completed a large mandala of butterflies, an amazing piece that brings together four species of butterflies in all of the splendour. The complex, circular artistic design is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. In common use, “mandala” is a term for diagrams, charts or art with a geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically.
Tonkiel admitted she's become a bit of a “secular Buddhist” lately, drawn in by the teachings. One of the five precepts of Buddhism is not to take the life of anything living.
She has what she calls a “scientific mind,” and always goes deep into the subject with meticulous detail.
“Drawing butterflies allows me to learn from the world's best designer, nature. The more I study butterflies, the more I am overwhelmed by nature's perfection, as there is never anything to improve or correct,” she said.
The butterfly, and all of its intricacies, has long captivated Tonkiel. She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the creature – from their protective camouflage and flight patterns, to their colour and minute scales on their wings. Like human fingerprints, no two butterflies are alike.
In her mandala, no two butterflies are identical and her representation “speaks volumes” about the unique qualities of these harbingers of spring.
Tonkiel is constantly reading and researching everything she can about the species. One important thing to note is human touch can seriously harm a butterfly. Their tiny scales can be easily rubbed off if you touch their wings, so avoid contact. Yes, they're pretty to look at and observe, but don't touch!
Tonkiel stressed butterflies don't bite and they don't carry disease. Their contribution to the eco-system is vital, and alas, they only live a matter of weeks, or months.
There are roughly 160 species of butterflies in Ontario and most people encounter only a dozen or so. The majority of casual observers are only familiar with the Monarch.
Tonkiel is not just an artist; she “grows” butterflies in her garden by providing an ideal habitat for their continued survival. She has between 16 and 18 species living on her property in the summer.
“For me they are also mystic creatures. Despite their fragility, they have inhabited this earth for more than 50 million years. I breed and watch them grow in my garden hoping they remain for eternity,” she said.
Anyone can help these creatures by planting appropriate flora, such as milkweed, zinnias, the butterfly bush, marjoram (oregano), daylily, lavender and Queen Anne's lace, to name just a few. Butterflies also need food, water and shelter from the elements and predators. Tonkiel said they also love to sunbathe to retain heat.
Tonkiel was drawn to butterflies by the works of renowned novelist, translator and entomologist Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. Nabokov's Lolita (1955), was his most noted novel in English. He was also noted for his amazing research into butterfly migration patterns.
Tonkiel's meticulous and intensely colourful drawings were originally meant to dissuade people from collecting actual butterfly specimens, many of which are now endangered. You can admire their beauty and structure simply by looking at any of Tonkiel's pieces.
Butterflies transport pollen to plants that are a good distance from each other. They perform cross pollination and ensuring a good mixing of genes. Plants benefit from this increase in genetic diversity. Researchers have learned that pollen, stuck to a butterfly's long tongue, stays fresh for some time, ensuring it remains viable at long distances.
Unlike bees that are colour blind, butterflies are attracted by red flowers. A number of flowers are completely dependent on butterflies for pollination.
Tonkiel can talk for hours on different aspects of butterflies.
She hopes that those who love her art will gain a new-found love and respect for this gentle winged lepidoptera.
For more, visit http://www.gtonkiel.com
Excerpt: Butterflies are not only beautiful creatures, they are a measure of the health of an eco-system. This important pollinator plays a vital role in our world, despite its short lifespan. King artist Grazyna Tonkiel has had a love affair with butterflies for more than two decades. She celebrates their amazing form and colour through her vibrant art pencil and gold leaf creations.
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