Aspiring artists get a crash course in Connecticut’s pollinators at Ridgefield event

RIDGEFIELD — Much like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, the children bounded around the Ridgefield Guild of Artists at light speed, but were careful not to spill the cups of murky paint water they carried.

With pin-thin brushes they applied layers of orange, black and white paint all over the building to create murals of monarch butterflies. The colorful pollinators were accompanied by bumblebees and silhouetted observers — one toted a camera to capture their beauty while another outstretched its arms to chase the butterflies through the proverbial breeze.

The project was one of the many activities offered through the guild’s Summer Arts Program. Mary Harold, vice president of the board of directors, has managed the program for over a decade.

“This year we didn't know where it was going … (but) it's been very successful,” Harold said. “It's been filled up almost every week.”

For seven weeks campers learned about different artistic mediums from a respective instructor. Topics included contemporary art, mono-printing, printmaking, cartooning and pop art.

The last lesson of the summer focused on murals and was led by local lepidopterist Victor DeMasi, of Redding. His firm, Monarch Painting, specializes in murals featuring native wildflowers and butterflies.

Throughout the week, DeMasi merged art and science to educate campers about the many species of pollinators that inhabit the gardens in front of the guild. The corridor is designated as one of Ridgefield’s pollinator pathways.

“When Victor showed up he was identifying the specific bees and the butterflies and ... (even) discovered a pair of insects that were unusual to have here,” Harold said.

The young campers approached each project as if they were entomologists, observing the insects with a close eye to inform their artwork.

“Nowadays everybody stays inside, so they really need some of that experience that you get from being out in the dirt,” DeMasi said. “The artist has to look closely at the world, and so does the entomologist.”

DeMasi said Connecticut had 11 species of bumblebees 25 years ago, but now only three or four are found commonly. He hopes his lessons have given campers a greater respect for pollinators as well as a sense of activism to protect them.

Scotts Ridge Middle School student Ella Tiktin, 13, has participated in the Summer Arts Program for the past four years. She said it was important to protect the world’s pollinators since they are crucial to humans’ survival.

Harold agreed: “This is their world.”

While most of the murals will be painted over before the guild’s Artist In Residence exhibition this weekend, one will remain as a permanent fixture on the outside of the building.