‘Butterfly statues’ with SA roots, adorn a fountain in far-flung San Diego

  • Butterfly
Ex-pat South Africans, Barbi Dorfan and Helen Segal, have added to the public art space in San Diego with two outdoor mosaic projects, both of which are permanent exhibits.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Mar 16, 2016


Pictured: Barbi Dorfan and Helen Segal, with one of their mosaic statues. The butterflies are very much in evidence.

The most recent work, mosaic statues inspired by the 1,5 million children who perished in the Holocaust, comprises three colourful figures reaching towards butterflies in the air above them. The statues are part of a refabricated fountain at a shopping centre in Torrey Hills, San Diego.                                                                                                                     

The owner of the centre, another former South African, Gary Levitt, who studied at Wits, was looking to revitalise the worn-out fountain at the focal point of the centre.
He was put in touch with his two “landsleit”, with Segal presenting concept sketches of the project to him, which he immediately approved. Months later, in November 2015, the vibrant, colourful statues were unveiled.                                                                                                                          

 “Gary is so much about community and having a centre that is a community centre, not just a shopping centre,” Segal said. With that in mind, she designed her sketches to include three figures reaching toward butterflies flying above them.

“They represent the community,” Segal explained, “people aspiring to do something better, greater than they are.”  

Dorfan went to King David, Victory Park, as did her three daughters, Jessica, Samantha and Rikki, until their immigration to the States in 2010.Her husband Joel was raised in Bulawayo and moved to South Africa when he was 17.

She did a BSc in computer science at Wits and later studied at the Ravenna School of Mosaic in Italy.                                                                                                   

Segal attended Woodmead High School in Johannesburg, studied art briefly at Wits, went to a kibbutz in Israel as an interim break from her schooling (after having had a car accident). “In Israel I met the man who would become my future husband. He was from the USA which is how I landed up here, graduating with a fine arts degree (summa cum laude).” Divorced for 10 years, she has two children Jason and Jenna. 

The Butterfly Project in which the women became involved was founded at the San Diego Jewish Academy and is championed by Cheryl Rattner Price.                                

The project aims to memorialise the Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. Every butterfly symbolises a child who was lost and a voice that is gained. Members of the public were invited to paint butterflies in accordance with the project - an artistic, educational programme commemorating the children and honouring the survivors.                                                       

The Butterfly Project aims to teach tolerance using the lessons of the Holocaust to remember the past, act responsibly in the present, and create a more peaceful future. By empowering students to take a stand against injustices, the Butterfly Project is a tool to launch and support anti-bullying programming.                                                                                                                        

The butterfly theme was carried over to their latest work at the Jewish Academy in San Diego, with some 2 000 butterflies painted by local schoolchildren around mosaicked statues of the four matriarchs: Sarah, Leah, Rebecca and Rachel. The larger-than-life sized work represents the Unbridled Spirit of the Child.

Each figure represents a season. The statues are surrounded by a bench of butterflies. They worked on the statues with Israeli artist Sigalit Sherman.

“We really work well together,” Segal says. “We get each other artistically.”
Both Segal and Dorfan are originally from Johannesburg.

Segal is the daughter of Marcia and the late Mr Justice Geoffrey Leveson, while Dorfan, is the daughter Pearl and the late Richard Weinberg. Her mother now lives in Israel.

“Art is an international language. Here we are, two South Africans of the same age group, who didn’t know each other in SA. But we were brought together across the world and have become great friends through art,” said Dorfan.

Segal adds: “It would be an incredible thing if we could do a butterfly project installation in South Africa.”

1 Comment

  1. 1 Richard (Helen's uncle) 20 Mar
    Truly inspiring and immensley worthwhile.


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