Butterfly mosaic sculpture brings uplifting message to Torrey Hills Center

The Torrey Hills community gathered Nov. 1 to celebrate the unveiling of a new sculpture at Torrey Hills Center, “The Unbridled Spirit of a Child.”

Three forms, in brilliant yellow, shades of blue and swirls of multicolored mosaics, reach to the sky to touch butterflies, surrounded by new landscaping and a small trickling fountain.

The sculpture gave colorful new life to an old concrete fountain that had been at the heart of the center on Carmel Mountain Road.

Carmel Valley mosaic artists Helen Segal and Barbi Dorfan created the work, which features more than 2,000 ceramic butterflies painted by local neighborhood school children as part of The Butterfly Project.

The Butterfly Project, which started at Carmel Valley’s San Diego Jewish Academy six years ago, seeks to create 1.5 million painted ceramic butterflies to represent the children lost in the Holocaust.

“How lucky we are that we have this gorgeous artwork in our community,” said Cheryl Rattner Price, Butterfly Project co-founder and executive director. “It’s breathtaking.”

On that Sunday afternoon, people filled the center around the new sculpture, receiving samples from center vendors and enjoying a performance from the little dancing butterflies from Scripps Performing Arts as they awaited the unveiling of the sculptures, which had been covered in sheets. There were gasps and applause when the sheets were finally taken away.

Torrey Hills Center owner Gary Levitt said he was wowed by the number of people in attendance and was proud at the results of his efforts to transform a tired, 10-year-old fountain into something special.

Levitt said he has hoped to create a community center, not just a shopping center.

“There’s always someone sitting in this area. It’s become an important part of the community,” he said.

Price said thanks to Levitt, Segal and Dorfan’s vision, the sculpture will have a lasting meaning for everyone who sees it.

Butterfly Project Co-founder Jan Landau said the project is a “teacher’s dream” and said that from its humble beginnings at SDJA, more than 130,000 butterflies have been created worldwide.

“Children feel gratitude for the lives they have and learn the importance of treating others well so the world becomes a much greater place,” said Landau.

The artists were also overwhelmed by the turnout, the culmination of a long summer spent inside the “quagmire of the fountain.” Segal, who sculpted the life-size forms before they were coated in pieces of colorful mosaic tile, thanked all of the center vendors and community members who supported them while they worked.

“Everybody around us just encouraged us so much,” Segal said. “It was amazing to see the outreach from everybody.”

Segal expressed her gratitude for Dorfan, her “comrade in art,” and said that the project was an enormous amount of fun.

“Helen’s vision and creativity knows no bounds,” Dorfan said.