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San Juan's eternal butterfly art

Once upon a time, a young couple and their baby daughter walked along the beaches of San Juan, Puerto Rico, selling arrangements of multicolored butterflies encased in acrylic boxes. Each day the little family carried a large suitcase filled with butterflies to the waterfront, hoping to earn enough money to survive.

The tiny transparent boxes of butterfly art sold for just $20 apiece and glistened in the sun. They were unusual souvenirs: Butterfly displays offer eternal beauty of a moment in nature suspended in time. Soon orders for the delicate masterpieces were coming from all over the world.

Over time, the little boxes became portrait-sized displays or murals of stunning butterfly mosaics. As museums and collectors demanded more spectacular arrangements, butterfly "rainbows" soon came to pass. And the Butterfly People found a shop in the bustling streets of Old San Juan to showcase their arrangements - a gallery with colorful rooms full of butterflies from every hue of the spectrum.

They located their café and gallery on the second floor of a beautiful old mansion in the teeming heart of San Juan, where people would have to seek them out rather than stumble upon them while strolling the streets.

It was a place that immediately surrounded visitors with walls of tranquility, while just below the streets bustled with their daily congestion.

And customers found the shop. Minus the café, The Butterfly People gallery moved just around the corner to a renovated Spanish colonial mansion at 257 Calle de la Cruz.

Richard and Renata Purington have long since retired. Their daughter, Cirene Purington-Revan runs the business with her husband, Resat, who designs the artwork.

The butterfly boxes no longer make their way to the beach as they did in the 1970s, and the murals are sometimes valued at six figures. But the "butterfly people" never forgot. They still sell some of their boxes for just $20 each. And they always will, because they are constantly reminded of their humble beginnings by the beauty and simplicity of their art.

Details: www.butterflypeople .com .

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