"From the Butterfly Bones Series" by Rebecca Bafford

Rebecca Bafford's "From the Butterfly Bones Series" uses plaster, wood, dirt and real butterflies at the Columbia Art Center. (Courtesy of the Columbia Art Center / October 21, 2011)

It's always a treat to spot a butterfly flying through your garden, and your appreciation is enhanced knowing that these short-lived insects are as ephemeral as they are colorful. What you probably didn't know is that so many butterflies that have forever flown from the scene are resting in perpetuity — actually, just for a few weeks — in an art installation at the Columbia Art Center.

Rebecca Bafford's "The Butterfly Bones Series" makes an immediate impression by placing indoors something that we ordinarily expect to encounter outdoors. It's just as readily apparent that these butterflies are dead, as in really, really dead. One section of the gallery wall is covered with intact butterflies that have been pinned to it, much as a hobbyist might do, in order to show off the vivid patterning on their spread wings.

Most of this installation, however, is given over to small, wall-mounted wooden frames that contain plaster casts of butterflies. The overall effect is akin to looking at the fossilized traces of a creature that is long gone.

Also, the dirt-, twig- and leaf-filled oblong wooden boxes lining the base of the gallery walls are sprinkled with broken butterfly wings that seem like a further reminder of how these fragile insects return to the earth.


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There are also upright black wooden boxes in which plaster hands hold butterflies as a reminder that this installation is symbolically about humans interacting with them. Paying a visit to these butterflies frankly means paying your respects to their remains, but their gorgeously colored wings make them look pretty good for creatures that are well on their way to becoming compost.

A second exhibit at the Columbia Art Center consists of oil and encaustic paintings by Trudy Babchak. The title of the series, "Miriam's Dance," refers to a figure from the Bible. Miriam, who was the sister of Moses, inspired the Israelite women to sing and dance to celebrate the parting of the Red Sea.

The artist does not literally depict such biblical figures but instead, generally features white-garbed, indistinct female figures whose upraised arms indicate their celebratory mood. The backing landscapes likewise are not specific places but instead, are gestural abstractions evoking the contemplative mood of open and empty deserts.

Babchak's paintings done with encaustic are especially persuasive in conveying that sort of mood. The aptly titled "Contemplation" depicts two ghostly white figures moving through a blurry landscape. In "Circle Dance," six green-and-white figures perform a circular dance against a milky landscape.

Whether in thoughtful poses or more actively moving, the women in these paintings are presented in such a way that they're both life-affirming and somewhat dreamy. Perhaps, they're ultimately moving through your imagination. In the oil painting "Emergence," for instance, more than a dozen women seem to be emerging from an abstract, straw-colored background that's like some primal substance.

Most of these paintings are quite small, but obviously they're meant to prompt larger thoughts about the dance of life.

Separate exhibits by Rebecca Bafford and Trudy Babchak remain through Oct. 30 at the Columbia Art Center, at 6100 Foreland Garth, in Long Reach Village Center, in Columbia. Call 410-730-0075 or go to http://www.ColumbiaArtCenter.org.