The butterfly is a symbol of many things: The soul. Freedom. Love.
For artist Valerie Pierce, it's transformation and rebirth - which is what she had in mind when she suggested it for the sculpture created for the Women's and Children's Alliance.
The shelter helps women rebuild families torn asunder by domestic violence.
Monarch butterflies' lives take them to Mexico and back in the course of a few generations.
"I picked the monarch because they have a journey," Pierce said.
The 60-year-old Kuna resident was one of 15 students at Boise State University's Sculptors' Guild who made the bronze sculpture "Taking Flight." Students worked about five years to complete the sculpture of a woman holding a baby in one arm while releasing a butterfly from an outstretched hand. The piece was dedicated at the shelter's 100th anniversary in 2011.
The butterfly was stolen - twice - in spring 2012. That changed the symbolism of the sculpture overnight.
One observer told WCA Executive Director Bea Black that the woman in the sculpture now looks as if she is begging. Some people began leaving small items in the hand - flowers, origami birds, pinwheels. The Facebook page, Boise's Open Hand, became a place for the community to debate whether the butterfly should be replaced.
At 1:30 p.m. Friday, it will be. The new butterfly will be attached in an informal ceremony at the WCA.
"I'm very excited," Pierce said. "It's putting something right. Once you finish something, you can move on. It's always about moving forward."
The stained glass butterfly, valued at $2,500, first disappeared in March 2012.
Security cameras showed a group of young people walking off with the butterfly, which had been dislodged earlier in the day by an identified passerby. The butterfly was returned a couple weeks later.
Two months later, the butterfly was lifted again. Images of the thief were widely distributed by local media.
"We kept thinking, surely somebody recognizes this guy," Black said. But the thief was never caught, and the butterfly wasn't returned.
"I felt bad for the center," Pierce said. "But I always knew we could do another one because we have a mold."
The WCA asked her to make a replacement. She got started on it, but took a break from the project for a trip to California last September.
SIDELINED BY CRASH
A year ago this week, Pierce was in a car crash on Interstate 15 in Nevada near Mesquite. Her Ford Explorer was rear-ended by a car traveling as fast as 90 mph, she said. The impact sent her vehicle into a guardrail. Then it rolled onto its top and nearly over a 1,000-foot drop.
"As I flipped, I thought I went over," Pierce said.
The force of the impact broke off one of the front wheels. The screaming she heard was the voice of the man who hit her.
"He was saying, 'Oh, my God, I killed her. I killed her,'" she recalled.
She believes the impact would have broken her neck if not for the titanium plate in her neck from a crash with a semi truck in 1995 on Southern California's Pomona Freeway. Some of her injuries were immediately apparent - her wrists and arms were wrenched. It wasn't until two weeks later that she suffered a series of strokes, which temporarily affected her speech and the whole left side of her body.
Doctors later discovered that her heart also was damaged. She had to limit her activities for three months.
NEW BUTTERFLY, NEW CHAPTER
With help from Sculptors' Guild adviser Frances Fox and fellow artist Tess Tilman, Pierce finished the butterfly this week. This time, it will be bolted and welded onto the WCA sculpture.
Pierce and her husband, Jim, have been married 35 years and have 14 grandchildren. Last year's crash led them to reassess their lives.
They both grew up on the California coast. They've decided to return to the beach: They're looking at relocating to South America, possibly Ecuador.
Pierce has no anger or bitterness about the accidents that debilitated her. She's too busy enjoying life and its unpredictable metamorphoses.
"Every day to me is a blessing," Pierce said. "I'm really in the moment. I'm feeling really good."
Katy Moeller: 377-6413