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A meaningful Mexican mural highlights the diversity of Storm Lake through dozens of monarch butterflies

In the heart of downtown Storm Lake, a crew of creators cut tile, mixed up plaster and placed pieces of a mosaic masterpiece.

They were creating a mural: a colorful depiction of dozens of monarch butterflies fluttering against a peaceful nature background.

Storm Lake held a dedication ceremony Friday for the mural, which was created to celebrate the community’s diversity. There are exactly 63 butterflies in total, one for each of the nationalities of people now living in Storm Lake.

Mary Carmen, from Zacatlán, Mexico, led a team of three other artists for the project. They all traveled about 1,800 miles to Storm Lake to collaborate with local volunteers, including students from Buena Vista University’s Spanish classes.

Picture of four people with big smiles in front of a brick building.
Sheila Brummer
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IPR
Artists from Zacatlan, Mexico who created a mural for Storm Lake are Erika Berra, Mary Carmen Overa Trejo, Oswaldo Olvera, and Gael Garcia.

Mary Carmen says the monarch represents the migration of people, and according to Buena Vista freshman Gabrielle Rodriguez, butterflies are "everywhere" in the mural.

Rodriguez painted her own butterfly near the top.

“You see the path right there, and then you see the grass, you see the water and you just see more butterflies,” she said, describing the mural.

The Witter Art Gallery helped facilitate the project and third trip for the artists in the past year and a half. They also created artwork for the gallery and a Virgin of Guadalupe for St. Mary’s Church.

“I believe very strongly that public art has power, and it can be a way for a community to come together,” said Witter board member Patricia Hampton.

Witter Gallery Board Member Patricia Hammond stands near the first mosaic mural created by Mexican artists for Storm Lake.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Witter Gallery Board Member Patricia Hammond stands near the first mosaic mural created by Mexican artists for Storm Lake.

“I believe very strongly that public art has power. And it can be a way for a community to come together," she said.

Hampton says Mary Carmen came up with the idea to fill her hometown in Mexico with murals several years ago, which in turn attracted tourists from around the world. One man from California who happened to travel through Storm Lake told local leaders about the traditional art form and helped with funding.

”We really want the project to continue, we want to bring the same group back to do additional murals, possibly one every summer,” Hampton said.

One person particularly excited about the butterfly background is Silvino Morelos. His business, Valentina’s Market near Lake Avenue, serves as a backdrop for the large-scale 20-by-8-foot design.

A man wearing a white apron stands in front of a black wall. He has a big smile on his face.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Long-time Storm Lake business owner Silvino Morelos moved Valentina's into its current building five years ago.

Morelos’ own immigrant story started in Mexico more than a half-century ago, when he migrated to California as a teen and then to Iowa as a young man.

Now he sells meats, produce and ethnic food with a smile and tireless work ethic.

“I work hard every day, and this is a family business that serves the community,” he said.

Morelos credits Storm Lake with giving his four children a strong education, stability and now a new landmark featuring the moving monarchs.

“Fly for support to the family, fly for a better life,” he said.

Gabrielle Rodriguez also sees a deeper meaning in the mural.

“My mom kind of took us out of Texas,” she said. “All the violence, it just wasn't good.”

Rodriguez ended up in Sheldon a dozen years ago, where as a teen, she worked long hours to help her mother and sisters get by.

“I grew up really fast,” she said. “And I kind of went through a lot of things in my life. So, butterflies, you know, become a caterpillar, and you just express your wings, and you become a new person — especially with school coming — become independent.”

Butterflies mean so much to Buena Vista University student Gabrielle Rodriguez she has several tattooed on her body.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Butterflies mean so much to Buena Vista University student Gabrielle Rodriguez she has several tattooed on her body.

Together, Rodriguez and others in Storm Lake help the artists build a purposeful picture; a picture on a wall that breaks down barriers and brings more than beauty to a community.

The Witter Gallery has announced that Buena Vista University plans to bring the artists back in April to create a mural for the campus.

Sheila Brummer joined the staff of Iowa Public Radio as Western Iowa Reporter in August of 2023. She knows the area well, after growing up on a farm in Crawford County, graduating from Morningside University in Sioux City and working in local media.