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San Jose Mercury News

Flights of Fancy

Butterflies are a Soar Point for the Imagination as Artist Pins His Career on the Shining Color of Iridescent Wings

By Susan Bryan - Special to the Mercury News

Steven Albaranes Creates Butterfly Art - shimmering flights of winged beauties fixed for eternity in acrylic lucite boxes for the table or walls.

Last Spring, Neiman-Marcus used three of Albaranes' largest butterfly displays in window displays at the Stanford Shopping Center. This year, May '92, Tiffany in San Francisco will feature Albaranes' colorful creations.

Albaranes' tranquil San Mateo home doubles as a gallery of butterfly art. Flocks of bright butterflies in frames crowd the hallway. In the living room, a stunning drift of butterflies is caught in a quartet of frames above the couch. As light catches the dark blue wings of big Morpho butterflies, their color shifts to electric turquoise.

"You should see them at night," says Albaranes, who focuses track lights on the creatures for after-dark splendor.

Albaranes orders his stock from commercial plantations in South America where butterflies are bred by the millions for sale to collectors around the world. "The butterflies I use live out their natural lives of about 30 days in large enclosures like Butterfly World, Marine World Africa," he explains.

"They live and breed just like in the wild. The only difference is that when they die, they're collected by workers and wrapped in paper for sale."

Albaranes spreads the insects wings in natural, flight-like positions that show off their dazzling metallic colors. Albaranes says his special "spreading" process is so tedious that it takes 10 days for one butterfly to reach framable condition.

That's partly why he sells his 15-by-24 inch lucite displays starting at $700. For about $80 on up, you can get a 7-by-7-by-3 inch deep acrylic lucite table top box, aflutter with two or three beauties.

Color drew Albaranes to butterflies in the first place. Before butterflies, he'd been heavily invested in brilliantly colored tropical fish. But when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake ruined his two expensive salt-water aquariums, Albaranes gave up fish.

Now Albaranes' hobby has mushroomed into a small business. It has crowded the cars out of his garage and also demanded the assistance of his girlfriend Florence Plan, who helps spread butterflies and makes many of the smaller frames.

"I never catch or kill butterflies", says the Rochester N.Y. native. "I just make available one of Mother Nature's most colorful and beautiful creatures in an art form."

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