Thursday, September 23, 2021
Sept. 23, 2021

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Papier-mâché butterflies alight at Vancouver Community Library

Vancouver native shares his creations, which include tropical fish, at facility in city’s downtown

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
6 Photos
Artist Jeff Hill shows off the "fish tank," full of his papier-mâché tropical fish, that's on display outside the Vancouver Community Library. The fish stop swimming at the end of this month, but a similar papier-mâché butterfly exhibit is on display inside the building through July.
Artist Jeff Hill shows off the "fish tank," full of his papier-mâché tropical fish, that's on display outside the Vancouver Community Library. The fish stop swimming at the end of this month, but a similar papier-mâché butterfly exhibit is on display inside the building through July. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

While Vancouver native Jeff Hill enjoys bird-watching, he’s always found the built-in suspense and the inevitable distance from his quarry a little frustrating. When the career anesthesiologist retired and moved to Hawaii part-time, he discovered how much easier it is to get up close and personal with tropical fish.

He fell in love with those scuba social visits, he said, and one year settled on a fish-ornament Christmas tree. Surprised to discover there were no such ornaments, he taught himself to make them out of papier-mâché.

That was nearly a decade ago, but you can see the colorful results in the front display window of the Vancouver Community Library, which is dolled up to look like a big fish tank. It’s stocked with about 100 of Hill’s whimsical and sometimes jumbo-sized — but otherwise painstakingly accurate, he said — papier-mâché fish.

The fish exhibit keeps swimming in front of the library through the end of this month. Meanwhile, more of Hill’s papier-mâché tributes to wildlife just went on display in the lobby: five glass cases of local and Hawaiian butterflies. They’ll be there through at least Aug. 1, Hill said.

Butterflies took over for fish simply because a local library on Hawaii’s Big Island kept asking Hill back to teach more papier-mâché classes, and he wanted to diversify.

“I didn’t know anything about butterflies, but the more I learned, the more fascinated I became,” said Hill, who majored in zoology at the University of Washington before becoming an anesthesiologist.

Interesting laboratory

Hawaii turns out to be an interesting zoology laboratory, he pointed out, because its famous plethora of butterfly species is almost entirely nonindigenous. The insects were introduced by travelers from other Pacific islands.

Hill has included in the library exhibit the two types of butterflies we tend to see right here in Clark County: the western tiger swallowtail, with its yellow wings and black stripes, and the cabbage, with ghostly white-yellow wings that contain what look like a pair of beady black eyes.

Hill said it might take him as long as 12 hours to finish a new butterfly, starting with tracing it from a photo and proceeding through layers of papier-mâché, paint and more papier-mâché. Waiting out drying time can stretch that 12-hour period to several days, he added. After he gets good at a particular species, his pace picks up.

Hill said he’s enjoyed showing his papier-mâché creations in local libraries and now hopes to move up into real modern art galleries and museum exhibits.

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