Bill Howe refers to himself as simply a "butterfly artist." He has devoted his life to capturing these small creatures—both literally and artistically—in detailed art work.
Howe's father was a cotton entomologist (a person who studies insects) for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fearing a homeland attack by the Japanese after the start of World War II, he moved the family from Santa Cruz, California, to middle America. They arrived in Ottawa, Kansas, in 1942.
Although Howe remembers his father as emotionally distant, he does credit him for introducing his son to the world of butterflies. Howe recalls a day when he was five years old and his father brought home a screen of caterpillars, leaving them on the dining room table. One day, the caterpillars turned into chrysalis and then full-blown butterflies. Young Bill was mesmerized. He accompanied his father on butterfly collecting trips and by the age of 11 was an avid collector himself. Over his lifetime, the artist has netted thousands of specimens from places such as Mexico, Colorado, and Tennessee, to name a few.
The art works shown here are Howe's scientific illustrations. At top are various tropical butterflies from North and South America drawn in 1951. The medium is colored pencil and watercolor. On the left are moths drawn with colored pencil in 1950 when he was a senior in college at Ottawa University.
Among the books Howe has edited and illustrated include Our Butterflies and Moths published in Kansas City in 1963, and Butterflies of North America published in 1975 by Doubleday. Through the medium of paint as well as pen and pencil, he has transformed the butterfly from a mere specimen to a work of art.
Today, Howe prefers to work in a looser style-creating landscapes with butterflies as subjects, using acrylic paints. He continues to work from his home in Ottawa where he paints by commission and also for his own enjoyment. His art can be found in institutions across the country, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Los Angeles County Museum.
This selection of Howe's work is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History. Browse other images of Howe's work at the museum:
Entry: Butterfly Prints
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2003
Date Modified: December 2014
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