Metamorphosis: The story of the Froelicher butterflies

If you ever walked past the back of the Froelicher Theatre at Colorado Academy, you may have stopped to look at oversized doors with a mural of bright yellow butterflies and a single blue butterfly, graced by a quote from Dr. Seuss:

“Today you are you
That is truer than true
There is no one alive
Who is you-er than you.”

When the Froelicher Theatre was demolished in August, most students and parents felt no regret bidding farewell to many features of the building—the crowded entry area, the absence of air conditioning, the small dressing rooms, and the shortage of restrooms. But the “butterfly doors” were another matter. They were a whimsical reminder of CA’s mission—to educate young children who ultimately transform into resilient, courageous, and curious young adults who fly away from the campus.

Who were the original painters? Where did their idea originate? Fortunately, they left a clue that, combined with the excellent memory of their mentor and some detective work, unraveled the mystery of the butterfly creators, all of whom have since experienced their own metamorphosis.

Capstone memories

It was spring of 2014 when Steve Scherer offered an Eighth Grade capstone project that required students to paint a mural somewhere on campus. Scherer offered the five-day class—but the students directed the decision-making from day one.

“It was such a great group of kids,” he says. “I was inspired by them. All I did was take them to the trailhead, and they took the journey.”

The students scouted the campus to find a place for the mural and settled on the back of Froelicher, met with a mural painter to talk about techniques, and began sketching concepts.

Jack Van Gilder ’18, Liam Caplan ’18, and Lauren Fossel ’18 still remember their original idea—to paint a set of very large hands. “The next day Eli Henry ’18 suggested that we reconsider the hands and replace that idea with butterflies,” Fossel says. “The meaning behind the butterflies was that they represented being unique and your true self.”

“The yellow butterflies represented the mainstream and following the crowd,” recalls Maggi Davis ’18. “The blue butterfly was going in the opposite direction and represented individuality, but those of us who made the yellow butterflies did put in effort to make them look unique.”

“I remember we had to have an “intervention” of sorts after painting for a couple days, because all our butterflies were two-dimensional,” Fossel says. “We had to make them look more “3D.”

Scherer still has photos of the students’ original drawings and pictures of the artists at work. What everyone—including Scherer—remembers most clearly was the student who led them. “Leilani definitely had the creative vision for this project!” recalls Jess Brown ’18.

Original plans for the mural

Leilani’s memories

Leilani Abeyta “had been an artist forever,” says Scherer. “While everyone had input, she definitely was the driver.”

For Abeyta, who just finished her sophomore year at Maryland Institute College of Art, the capstone project brings back many memories.

I remember this week vividly, as I was put “in charge” of my peers, which made me really nervous. I was also put in charge of painting the big blue butterfly and was the go-to person for my peers asking questions about their own yellow butterflies.

 “This mural was a lot of fun to create, and we all were excited to stand on tall ladders and use exterior paint to leave our creative mark on CA. When we finally all had the concept and design laid out, I remember it was Eli Henry who came up with the idea to have a Dr. Seuss quote.

“You could see the excitement and joy radiating from Steve as we all participated in creative expression, while simultaneously leaving our artistic mark on the CA community; it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of something so fun and artistic at the same time.

 “I will always remember Mr. Vigil coming up to me and saying that every day he parks his car, he loved seeing the mural, and it always brightened my day each time he told me.”

Artists sign their work for posterity, and so did the members of the Eighth Grade capstone project. They painted their names inside the door jamb, and so it was easy to track them down six years later. Many still had vivid memories of that week. “I do remember it was the hottest week of the school year,” says Brown. “We had to paint in shifts because it was so hot!”

“I also remember how excited Steve was for this mural,” adds Van Gilder. “What I learned from Steve really stayed with me after high school. I always remembered that I should never give up on the arts.”

Scherer confesses some sadness at the loss of the legacy of these students’ work. But he is looking forward to the new Leach Center for the Performing Arts, with all the new opportunities for professional quality productions the facility will provide. “Just like a butterfly, the building is going to be transformed,” he says. “And the result is going to be beautiful.”