Mind Over Mosaic: Caroline Moses Sends Fender’s Blue To Forefront

Photo credit: Jordan Collett.

If you’ve walked along Monroe Avenue recently, you’ve probably noticed the mural forming on a weathered, concrete wall on the northeast edge of campus. At a closer glance, the painting reveals a series of pixelated squares — individual blocks of blues and greens depicting an image of butterfly wings. Local artist, Caroline Moses explains that the subject of this particular work is the Fender’s blue butterfly. 

The Fender’s blue is an endangered species native to the Willamette Valley. Each of the painted square blocks, a mere 2.5 centimeters in width, represents the average wingspan of the endemic species. The purpose of Moses’ mural is to spur a dialogue within the community aimed to support this suffering species.

Moses’ inspiration for her work is derived from her experience with woodblock mosaics, a style of art that is both tedious and therapeutic.

To start, she devised a matrix of painted blocks to create the butterfly image. Then she used a computer program to map her colors on the wall, and from there, laid out an assortment of colored blocks, painting them according to her print. The meticulous process includes a bit of improvisation as well, as all artwork inevitably does.

Julia Bradshaw, a professor at Oregon State University, referred Moses to Bessie Hartman, owner of the Monroe Avenue Salon and Spa, to do the mural. Hartman was looking for a local artist who would not only paint a mural for her business, but something that was meaningful to the community as well. 

Hartman suggested a mural of a butterfly, but instead of painting exactly what the client wanted, Moses did her homework and took it a step further. She spent a month researching until she had a subject that was relevant to the region. 

Photo credit: Jordan Collett.

The butterfly that once thrived in the Willamette Valley was decimated by a loss of habitat. Today, only 6,000 or so exist, mostly in the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge in neighboring Polk County. 

For decades, the Fender’s blue was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1989, along with its host plant, Kincaid’s lupine, by OSU biologist Paul Hammond. Since then, there has been a concerted effort to protect its precious habitat and host plant.  

Although this is her first publicly exhibited work, Moses explains this mural is an opportunity to bring something out in the open that people aren’t aware of.  She sees her job as an artist is “to open conversations.” For some, having people watch you while you work would be daunting, but not for Moses, who has enjoyed interacting with the public.

Moses is eager to point out that the skills she learned at OSU groomed her for the work she does today. 

Her former professor and mentor, Michael Boonstra, explains that public exhibits are just as valuable as private gallery work, but with public commissions, “the artist has much less control over how the work is viewed.”

Whether everyone understands the plight of the Fender’s blue in her work or not, Moses has learned a great deal during the process, and met some interesting people along the way.

By Chris McDowell