Several years ago, I was asked to submit a design proposal for an original ceramic mural to a prominent Paradise Valley, Arizona couple. As with all creative opportunities, I wanted this to be the best I was capable of. The piece, as it turned out, was for the home of Mr. & Mrs. Muhammed Ali, who for three years had been looking for something “bold and beautiful” to hang over their living room fireplace.
After the Alis signed off on the proposal, I spent more than 400 hours over a nine-month period, used some 325 lbs. of stoneware clay, iron, wood and ceramic glazes, to create “Butterflies and Bees”.
Settling on a design theme of a blooming prickly pear cactus plant with multiple buds and two large golden colored blooms as its focal point, I designed the 5ft. x 5 ft. mural as a comment on life’s challenges and rewards.
Wanting the mural to have an overall healing and calming effect on its viewers, I drew on my lifelong enjoyment of and familiarity with the desert and chose colors that would not only harmonize with the room, but would have a visually soothing effect on the viewer. Glazing on the blossoms was applied to emulate a watercolor effect, enhancing the delicate and elegant nature of the flower petals.
It was the center of each flower, however, that I chose to be the real showstopper. Sculpted with over 100 tiny clay butterflies and bees set in the delicate and fragile beauty of a flower against the austere desert background, it categorically captured the poignant meaning of Ali’s iconic phrase, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Today, I think of this piece as having healing powers. It enabled me to recharge my life with the revitalizing energy of joyful creativity, and the fact that Mrs. Ali tells me she will frequently stand in front of it to catch its healing rays.