Thursday, February 24, 2011

Butterfly Tray !

I've finally taken a photo of something that's always remained special to me & has been in my head for many years - since I was very young in fact. I remember initially seeing it in a relatives' house a long time ago and on occasional child visits, always found it fascinating. Growing up, I never saw it again and forgot about it. Until recently ... when after a relative died, it was given to me and it was just as I remembered!!

Now, looking retrospectively over my work, I've suddenly realised that it actually had an enormous impact on how I design ... my use of colour ... the imagery I like ... my interests. I believe the item to be a holiday memento from Brazil that shows Rio de Janeiro's Sugar Loaf Mountain and is a tray (at least 60 years old) - a label on the reverse states that it is an original hand painting and uses authentic butterfly wings from the area.

The tray (above) is solid mahogany with two handles and an inlaid wood marquetry border surrounding an inner recessed glass section. It measures appx. 52cm x 33cm / 20.5” x 13" with the main ‘picture’ section (38cm x 28.5cm / 15” x 11.25”) under glass. It depicts an evening scene in Rio de Janeiro at Sugarloaf Mountain - skillfully captured using reverse painting predominantly in black and gold with sea and sky (blue, green and white) irridescence from the butterfly wing background. The tray’s reverse is also of solid wood and is screwed onto the main body underneath. A small label states: “We guarantee that this article is handpainted and that the wings used are from genuine South American butterflies.”
I've now found out more about it:

It's an early/mid-20th Century hardwood wood tea tray with central landscape scene of (mainly) water and palm trees and titled 'Brasil'. Originally (& possibly purchased as a holiday memento from South America), these trays (plus other items) were often made specially for the tourist market using Morpho butterflies (left). Found in the South American rain forests, the butterflies are captured by natives & the iridescent wings then displayed under glass. Using a technique called reverse painting, a tint is painted directly onto the back of a piece of glass that is then placed over a butterfly wing background.

The notable mountain shown is a granite peak at the mouth of Guanabara Bay – it is said to resemble the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar! On a peninsula sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean, Sugarloaf Mountain rises 396 metres (1,299 ft) above the harbour and 2 cable car lines (the earliest built in 1912) take passengers to the mountain peaks. These 2 lines together with a cable car are clearly visible in the landscape scene on this tray.