The article as it appeared in the Oct./Nov. 2004 Premier Issue
you first enter butterfly display artist Steven Albaranes's Mariner Island
home, you're immediately aware of a calm and luminous energy that permeates
the entire house. Just inside the living room a small stone water fountain
burbles quietly in the corner. Streams of daylight pour through thewindows
that face the lagoon beyond the dock in back. Various sized acrylic cases
containing brilliantly colored butterflies adorn walls and tabletops.
A particularly large panel holds an arrangement of dozens of exotic iridescent-blue
and sulfur-yellow butterflies suspended high toward the vaulted ceiling.
You know that the butterflies aren't alive, yet there is an undeniable
rhythm and movement in the way they've been arranged.
The perceived motion is subtle, but palpable; you
can almost hear the soft fluttering of wings.
"The title for that display is 'Blue Canyon'," says Steven.
"It's one of my signature pie- ces." For nearly fourteen years
now, Albaranes has been creating these unique works of art, first as a
hobby, then as his full time vocation. After a highly successful career
as a designer optical supply salesman, he was inspired to create his own
art by his father Paul, who, after owning a retail clothing business for
25 years, became a self-taught and well-respected artist in his own right.
Albaranes began selling his butterfly creations at Bay Area art festivals
and within two years he was able to leave his sales job altogether. In
addition to the assorted sized panels he sells to private parties, Steven
has also created custom window designs, his swirling butterfly displays
offsetting the hard beauty of Tiffany and Company's jewelry and the natty
angular lines of Neiman Marcus women's wear.
As Steven talks about his butterfly creations, you sense a quiet, yet
intense passion for his art as well as a full appreciation for his being
able to earn a living doing what he loves to do. "I work hard, but
I always feel like I've won the lottery. Even though I've been doing this
for a long time now, I feel just as excited today as I did when I created
my first piece." Observing him in his downstairs studio that overlooks
the softly undulating water of Mariner Island Lagoon, it's hard to argue
with him.The commute alone must be especially sweet.
A life-long hobbyist, Steven at one time collected
exotic saltwater tropical fish. "I loved their iridescent colors
and the unique personalities that each and every fish had." But on
October 18, 1989 that all came literally crashing down in the Loma Prieta
earthquake, prompting him to search for another, less fragile hobby. While
visiting Golden Gate Park's Academy of Science with his girlfriend, Albaranes
was smitten with a floor to ceiling display of iridescent green and yellow
butterflies. The curator of the Academy referred him to a butterfly expert
in San Diego from whom Steven eagerly gathered information about butterfly
breeding farms and display
One of the trickiest aspects of Steven's art is the delicate operation
of opening a butterfly's wings from the folded position in which they're
shipped. After extensive practice on inexpensive butterflies early on,
Albaranes eventually refined a technique where he opens the butterfly
and effectively custom curves the outspread wings, rather than pinning
them flat as is usually done for museum exhibits. When displayed, the
curves in the butterflies' wings introduces an element of movement-what
Albaranes calls "sustained motion"-into the otherwise static
space. The effect is a unique rhythm for each piece that you can actually
None of the butterflies used in Steven's creations are endangered or purposely
killed. He imports his almost 400 different species from various commercial
breeding farms located in Central and South America and Papua, New Guinea.
The farms are actually netted-off sections of rain forest that allow the
butterflies to mate, lay eggs, and die naturally in their native environment.
They are then gathered and shipped to collectors and distributors around
the globe. Quality of the butterflies is rated, similar to the system
used for diamonds. Albaranes uses only the top grade, A1, in his designs
and, to prevent any potential damage from mites, fumigates 100%of those
Even though it's been twelve years since Steven
left his sales career, he's still a firm believer in customer service.
"One of the keys to my success has been repeat customers. Once they
buy their first display, it isn't long before they want another. And with
my website (www.butterflygallery.com),the
range that my butterflies can fly has expanded tremendously. Now I can
bring even more people into that special family of butterfly lovers."