Matthew Gray Palmer of Friday Harbor, Washington, created “All Things Within All Things” in 2010. Matthew playfully illustrates our interconnection with each other by incorporating one of the largest terrestrial mammals, an elephant with one of the most delicate wind-bound insects, the butterfly. The sculpture is fabricated in aluminum and measures approximately 16’ long, 7’ wide, with a 10’ shoulder height. An elegant linear armature that loosely follows the organic volume of the elephant has been welded and forged to provide structural stability. Spanning the spaces of the armature are over 6,000 butterfly silhouettes plasma-arc cut from sheets in thicknesses ranging from 1/8”–3/16”, hand forged and shaped to complete the surface of the elephant. The large (18” wing span) golden butterfly with the elephant wings is cast in aluminum and gilded with 24k gold.

As visitors approach the main entrance of the Virginia Zoo they are greeted by the massive life-size African Elephant, its trunk inquisitively raised with a large golden butterfly perched on its end. Upon closer inspection you’ll see the elephant is in fact composed entirely of thousands of butterflies of varying species, shapes and sizes. In turn, the wings of the golden butterfly are made of elephants. The artwork is iconic in stature and speaks specifically to the wide range of experiences that visitors to the Virginia Zoo have, from exotic animal exhibits to the park setting and gardens. Accessible to all ages, the artwork is grand, dramatic, gentile and fun, and layered with possibilities for deeper understanding.

Complimentary to the educational and conservation initiatives of the Virginia Zoo, the artwork aims to illustrate in a playful fashion our interconnection with all that is. The Greek word for butterfly is Psyche and it is the same word for soul. This transformative symbol entwined with the elephant, a symbol of wisdom, evokes the link between knowledge, understanding and compassion as we strive to develop relationship in accord with the world in which we live. Highlighting our diversity as well as our commonalities, from the largest terrestrial animal to delicate wind bound insects, there is recognition that what we do to each other, our planet and its diverse ecology, we do to ourselves.

“This project for the City of Norfolk and the Virginia Zoo provided a tremendous opportunity to reach a wide demographic with multiple layers of meaning. The metaphor can be stretched towards a moving beyond our perceived separateness and a realization that “I” and the other are one and of the same universal manifestation of life.” says Palmer, a full-time artist.

Karen Rudd & Dorothy Coakley give the elephant his annual bath

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Norfolk Arts seeks to create a rich, diverse, environment that reflects, celebrates and invites all to experience the arts. We seek to give voice to our community and strive to unite, energize, prompt dialogue, and inspire the unique character of Norfolk.

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