The Butterfly People: Old San Juan’s rainbows of art



OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO, June 6, 2015 — Rainbows of butterflies are an art form in Old San Juan, where the vivid murals of The Butterfly People depict the stunning beauty of fleeting moments in time.

Once upon a time, in the late 1960s, a young couple strolled the beaches of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico with their infant daughter selling arrangements of multi-colored butterflies encased in acrylic boxes. Each day the little family carried a large suitcase filled with their butterfly rainbows to the waterfront, hoping to earn enough money just to survive.

Gallery at the Butterfly People  (Butterfly People)
Gallery at the Butterfly People (Butterfly People)

The tiny transparent displays of butterfly art glistened in the sun, selling for just $20 to anyone seeking an unusual souvenir — small cases of butterflies offering the beauty of a fragile moment of nature that was now timelessly preserved forever.

There was no internet at the time. No Facebook or Twitter or Google or other social networking resources to access the world. With no money for advertising, word of mouth and personal contact were the only means of marketing.

So the Puringtons continued their daily journeys to the beach ,where holiday travelers could view their colorful prisms of butterfly artistry.

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Over time, as travelers returned to their homes and proudly shared their distinctive iridescent treasures with friends, the “butterfly people” began getting inquiries from distant places far removed from the beaches of Old San Juan. Before long, orders for the delicate masterpieces were arriving from all over the world.

Butterfly people sign leads to the gallery  (Butterfly People)
Butterfly people sign leads to the gallery (Butterfly People)

As demand increased, the plexiglass boxes became larger. The miniature single butterfly cases evolved into portrait-sized displays that later expanded to murals of stunning butterfly mosaics. Museums and collectors requested even more spectacular exhibits, and some of the butterfly rainbows eventually spanned entire walls.

Thanks to the growing popularity of their butterfly art, the beach eventually outlived its usefulness as a viable venue for the Purington family. So the “butterfly people” found a shop amid the bustling streets of Old San Juan to showcase their arrangements. They turned it into a museum filled with rooms of vivid butterflies displaying colors from every part of the spectrum.


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Situated on the second floor of a historic mansion in the teeming heart of the city, the Puringtons’ gallery  was located where people had to seek them out rather than accidentally stumble upon them while walking the streets.

Aerial view of San Juan, Puerto Rico  (wikipedia)
Aerial view of San Juan, Puerto Rico (wikipedia)

Word of mouth continues to be a major source of promotion for the Butterfly People, but modern technology has provided an even greater opportunity to market their creations.

Today, as stated on their website, the Puringtons use only creatures that are no longer alive, “Breathtaking in their exquisite natural beauty, the tropical butterflies used in Butterfly People’s works come from farms and ranches throughout the world and have completed their short life span. Butterfly People complies with all applicable permit and licensing procedures which are stringently enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The butterflies are fully preserved and mounted in sealed acrylic cases, engraved with the Butterfly People signature, and dated. With proper care, they will retain their beauty indefinitely.”

The Butterfly People staff  (Butterfly People)
The Butterfly People staff (Butterfly People)

To savor the serenity of the collections, the Butterfly People Café features a delightful setting with wrought iron furnishings for visitors and customers to view the magnificent butterfly murals.

Though the main gallery has since moved just around the corner to a renovated Spanish colonial mansion at 257 Calle de la Cruz, the Butterfly People Café remains on the upper floors of 152 Fortaleza St. It is a place that immediately surrounds visitors, be they tourists or locals, with walls of tranquility, while just below, the street still bustles with the tangles and snarls of its perpetual congestion.

The Puringtons are old now. Their daughter is grown. The “butterfly people” no longer make their way to the beach as they did in the ’60s. Though the murals are now sometimes valued at six figures, the family legacy lives on.

The “butterfly people” have never forgotten those early days when the sands of Old San Juan were the only place they could find to display their creations, the place where their dreams began.

The power and majesty of El Morro Castle is a symbol of Old San Juan  (wikipedia)
The power and majesty of El Morro Castle is a symbol of Old San Juan (Wikipedia)

Even with their success, the Butterfly People still have boxes that sell for just $20 today. And they always will, for those boxes are a constant reminder of humble beginnings that were transformed by the beauty and simplicity of their butterfly art.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award- winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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