butterfly project

The goal: 1 butterfly for each child killed in the Holocaust

Above photo: Trent Pinigis, 12, points to a butterfly he painted as part of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s Butterfly Project. Photo courtesy of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

A delicate hand-painted butterfly delivers a powerful message.

The Butterfly Project, a San Diego-based global initiative, has a goal of painting one butterfly for each of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust. Thousands of kids and their families around the world have participated in the project.

The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh brought the Butterfly Project to Pittsburgh last spring, with the painting of 870 butterflies by 20 groups from a variety of ages and ethnic backgrounds. The finished butterflies were incorporated into two original art pieces. One is on permanent display at the Holocaust Center; the other is a traveling piece.

And that was just the start.

This summer, a $50,000 award from the Heinz Endowments will enable the message to reach hundreds more Pittsburgh families as Holocaust Center educators challenge communities to embrace differences and fight against bigotry and intolerance.

From June 15 to Aug. 8, through a partnership with the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA), 18 libraries throughout Allegheny County will provide painting sessions where participants will be given the story of a specific child and then paint a butterfly inspired by that story.

butterfly project
Kids at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood paint ceramic butterflies in remembrance of Jewish children who died during the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh goal is to paint 1,000 butterflies this summer. The finished butterflies will be displayed in participating libraries as part of a city-wide exhibit, and a free end-of-summer celebration is being planned to bring together all participants in the project. There is no cost to participate in this program.

“We believe that anyone who hears the story of a Holocaust survivor or victim becomes a witness,” says Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

“Participants will create objects of beauty while performing an important act of remembrance,” she says. “I hope that it will be a memorable experience that will encourage children and families to embrace difference and speak up when they see something that they know is wrong.”

The Holocaust Center chose to team up with the library association because of the importance of libraries in neighborhoods.

“We figured that by working with ACLA, we could reach many more kids than we would working school by school,” she says. “We are thrilled by the response and expect to reach at least 23 libraries by the end of the summer.”

By the completion of the project, the libraries will create a butterfly trail across Allegheny County, she says.

Butterfly Project
These ceramic butterflies were created by artist Alix Paul for the Butterfly Project at local libraries this summer.
Photo courtesy of Alix Paul.

“We have worked with the Holocaust Center in the past, and it was a natural fit to collaborate on this project,” says Carrie Lane, youth services coordinator for ACLA, who is working with libraries to set up the events.

“The libraries are very open to hosting programs offered by other organizations in Pittsburgh’s learning community,” she says.

So far, 18 area libraries are involved in the Butterflies Project. Check locations and schedules here.