History and Art Blend for HMH's Taking Flight

Holocaust Museum Houston's latest exhibition highlights artistic efforts to represent 1.5 million people who perished during the war.

By Max Jefferson March 15, 2016

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A small collection of handcrafted butterfly-inspired items created by children from all over the world is the centerpiece of Taking Flight: The Butterfly Project, the latest exhibition featured at the Holocaust Museum Houston. The project, made up of more than 1.5 million crafts over the past two decades, highlights the effort to honor and recognize the number of children who perished during the Holocaust.

More than 12,000 children under the age of 15 passed through the Terezin camp in Czechoslovakia from 1942­–1944; over 90 percent of them died. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an accomplished artist and designer, was one of a handful of teachers at the camp; she decided to moderate the chaos present in the lives of the imprisoned children by presenting them with a wide variety of different forms of artistic expression.

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“Through art, the children were able to express the sad and horrible truth of the concentration camp,” says Syd Moen, curator of Taking Flight. “The children were able to move into a world of fantasy and imagination, where there was free will, hope for the future, and good still remained over evil.” The project features the butterfly as its symbol because of its representation of rebirth and freedom from oppression.

Taking Flight expresses the diversity of the children destroyed by the Holocaust, as well as the mass population of international children who have participated in the project since 1995 through the wide array of different materials used to construct the butterfly items, including wood, fabric, feathers, even concrete.

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Moen was chosen to head the project after an extensive search and review process conducted through the Holocaust Museum Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance. As someone who has grown up with a sincere love for art, Moen is able to see the potential and creativity of today’s youth just by observing the collection of butterfly artifacts on display at the museum. “As an artist, I understand the process that the children went through in order to create the butterflies," she says. "First, they had to absorb the history of the Holocaust, then they had to explore the lessons learned and finally, yet importantly, they had to express their feelings by creating a butterfly.”

Taking Flight serves as a touching and revealing window into the potential of our youth and the importance of older generations to always stand up to evil and ruthlessness. “When you explore the exhibit you can see that the children took their time in expressing how they feel about the Holocaust,” she continues, “and the loss of the children. There is a depth of knowledge and understanding that just breaks my heart in one way but in another way I'm so incredibly proud of all of the artists. How could one not have hope for the future?”

Thru July 31. $12, non-members; $8, seniors, students, military, and members. Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline St. 713-942-8000. butterflies.hmh.org

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