Cypress artist brings the beauty of real butterflies to clocks
Article by Diane Cowen January 24, 2022 | Houston Chronicle | HoustonChronicle.com
Painting has always been a hobby for Cassandra Bohne-Linnard, a creative outlet when she was raising children and working in not-so-creative jobs in the energy industry.
The walls of her Cypress home are covered with colorful landscapes and other images that Bohne-Linnard was drawn to at one time or another.
But in a small study that the Houston native has turned into her workshop, a simple painting of a single butterfly was the launchpad for something completely different.
A vivid blue butterfly — inspired by the morpho species — was painted on a lemon-yellow background, a smile-inducing combination titled “Freedom” that still inspires Bohne-Linnard today.
After that painting, she looked outside and thought about butterflies and her garden. She created a butterfly garden with honeysuckle, Duranta, ruellia, esperanza and milkweed to draw in more of the insects.
It occurred to her that she could work actual butterflies into her art, so she started researching where she could purchase butterflies and how they need to be handled and preserved to last. It should be noted that she never uses butterflies from her own yard or that are captured live. She only purchases the beautiful insects from reputable companies that operate sustainably, harvesting butterflies after their very short lives have ended.
She used cloches to cover butterflies mounted on pieces of wood, as if a cluster of beautiful monarchs, morphos or swallowtails decided to rest all together. Sometimes she placed butterflies on a background, their brilliant colors forming a pattern.
One day she mentioned she wanted to try something new but she wasn’t sure what. Her husband, David Linnard, suggested using butterflies in clocks.
The two have been married 6 years, each bringing three children to their blended family. Then they had two more. While David’s children are grown, Cassandra’s three teenagers are still home, and the couple have a 3-year-old and 4-year-old together.
Bohne-Linnard got to work making clocks — David helps build the frames and installing the clockworks — and now they’re sold in six places: the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Bisong Art Gallery, Impulse Art, Chappell Jordan Clocks and Oasis FINO Furniture Gallery in Houston, and at Carats, a jewelry-home goods store in McAllen. Most sell for $1,500.
Each clock is a titled work of art, and rarely does she make the same combination twice. The 20-inch clocks sometimes are made with a single species of butterfly, but sometimes she uses combinations of color and size, depending on the intended style of the piece.
Most of her works are a fit for traditional style, with carved pieces of wood that are then painted for the face of the clock. For the background, she has used wall décor she finds in stores and online, sometimes even using the top of a small table if she simply liked the way it looked. Others are hand carved for her.
She’s gotten more contemporary in recent pieces, combining geometric shapes and different colors for those in need of a clock that fits with more modern décor.
Each clock begins with a plan for how she’ll use color, pattern and texture. Often the mere idea will inspire a title for the piece before it’s even begun.
In a process that can take four to six weeks per clock, she begins with 15 butterflies, knowing that the insects’ wings are fragile and can easily tear or suffer other damage.
Butterflies are shipped to her dried and preserved, with their wings pressed together in a compact size, each wrapped individually in a triangle of thick tissue paper. She hydrates them — making them more pliable to work with — by placing them between damp sheets of paper towel, layered in an airtight container for a day or two.
Bohne-Linnard unwraps them carefully and gently places a finger between the wings, forcing them apart, a nudge at a time. When their wings are spread open — often using special insect forceps — she places them on a canvas to rest in the position they’ll stay. A sliver of index card stock is placed vertically over each wing, then an insect pin holds the paper to the canvas — the pin never pierces the wings. For a little extra weight, she places a thin microscope glass slide on each wing to help hold it down.
A row of butterflies waiting to be used in a clock will sit for five days before she glues them in place. When that process begins, patience pays off, as Bohne-Linnard might have to hold the butterfly in place for an hour as the glue dries. One wobble and the butterfly can fall out of place or even get damaged.
It’s all been a process of learning, trial and error, then starting all over again.
Those can be expensive mistakes, as the butterflies aren’t cheap, ranging from $10 to $3,000 for a single insect. Monarchs are most plentiful, so they’re also the least expensive and easiest to get. Lucky for us, since monarchs seem to be the favorite of Bohne-Linnard’s clients.
Other butterflies come in deep colors: red gliders (cymothoe sangaris) from Africa, blue morphos from South America and the hard-to-find salamis parhassus, which shimmers like mother of pearl.
Droughts, freezes and other elements of climate change affect butterfly availability. The salamis parhassus and Madagascan sunset moths have been out of stock for months, Bohne-Linnard said. She sat on a waitlist for two years just to get four purple butterflies — one of the rarest colors. Others have indefinite waitlists.
Bohne-Linnard has a patent pending on her process for using butterflies in clocks and has just passed the 100-clock mark, holding up the certificate for her 101st clock.
“When my husband said, ‘You should do them in clocks,’ he thought it would be one of those things that you talk about but don’t really do,” Bohne-Linnard said. “This has just opened a new world for me.”