This article is from the July 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Migration of the Michoacán Monarch Butterfly

by Mario Korman 

Mario Korman is the author of the book, Larceny of the Heart, and editor and writer for Laminiation News Magazine. Check out his website at  

Victor Manuel Tinoco Rubi, Governor of the State of Michoacán, Mexico, visited Chicago, Illinois, on June 19, 2001, as host for a reception honoring the opening of the exhibition Copper, Stone and Fire, by James Metcalf, Ana Pellicer and the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre in the mountains of Michoacán. The retrospective exhibition at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum will run until the end of August. 

“The artisans of Santa Clare Del Cobre inherited the pre-Hispanic knowledge of high temperature metal modeling, which surprised the Spaniards at their early arrival to Michoacán. Among them was Don Vasco de Quiroga, a man who laid down the social principals for a new organization to the Purepechan inhabitants and helped them develop the various advanced skills in hand and folk arts that today bring pride to the Michoacán people and amaze the world,” Señor Rubi indicated.            

Alongside the sculpture of Metcalf and Pellicer a selection of copper work and jewelry made by the artisans was also displayed. Additionally, the artwork is accompanied with Jeffrey Blankfort's photographs of the artisans, their workshops, and classes that are held at the Adolfo Best Maugard School of Arts and Crafts that Metcalf and Pellicer founded in 1976. Today it is the national training institution for Mexican technical arts education with exchange programs in Oaxaca and Chiapas.           

Metcalf became recognized as one of the most promising sculptors of his generation during the late 1950's and early 1960's. His work was exhibited at major galleries in Paris, London and New York. He started his association with the Santa Clara del Cobre artisans back in 1967. He was amazed to discover a community of family forges, hammering out kettles from solid ingot – not on iron anvils but on stone. The artisans would melt scrap copper directly into holes in the ground without a crucible, lining the hole with oak ashes. As a result of this style of forging copper and silver, the town has become internationally famous.           

During this time Metcalf took on a young woman from Mexico City named Ana Pellicer. Over time growing as an artist in her own right, Ms. Pellicer also became a teacher and spokeswoman for the town. Her Jewelry for the Statue of Liberty, a tribute to the women of Santa Clara del Cobre where she taught them the art of making jewelry, giving them economic power and social status, represented Mexico in New York and Paris during the 1986 centenary celebration. Another Pellicer exhibition, Ulama: The Bouncing Ball, was Mexico's official work for the 1992 Quincentenary celebration in Mexico City, New York and Madrid.           

Señor Rubi added, “I would like to thank Mr. Joseph Shackter, Director of The Peggy Notebaert Museum, for his support and hospitality and where the monarch butterfly has a very special place, as it does in Michoacán.”           

Indeed, the Notebaert Museum proudly displays the life and travels of the monarch butterfly.  

According to Mr. Schackter, “The beautiful monarch butterfly migrates from as far away as Canada through Chicago south to the tree-covered mountains near the village of Angangueo, 175 km east of the capital city of Morelia, near the city of Zitácuaro. Many scientists believe the migration has taken place for over 40,000 years.” 

Besides the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, there are many good reasons to travel to Michoacán. The state’s markets are some of Mexico’s most colorful. One should look for pottery, wood carvings, musical instruments (guitars), and candy. Several villages specialize in a particular folk art tradition. 

However, the butterfly migration is a thing to behold. The butterflies mate, lay eggs, and occupy the area’s oyamel fir trees. As a result the trees almost glow with a bright orange color. The butterflies’ arrival begins sometime in November and they depart during the month of April on their way back to the USA and finally Canada. 

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