A local movement is underway to showcase the remarkable work of an Ottawa artist.
For most of his life, William H. Howe or Bill as he was known, lived in Ottawa and his paintings of nature, which often included the migration of Monarch butterflies, made him famous all over the world. Now the Ottawa Main Street Association, Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau and local muralist Dave Loewenstein have a plan to preserves Howe’s legacy and add yet another reason for visitors to make a stop in Ottawa.
Loewenstein first met Howe while he was working on a book about Kansas murals. He came to Ottawa to see the large mural he had painted at the former Ottawa Middle School. That meeting sparked a friendship and the two would meet frequently in Ottawa to discus art and Howe’s legacy.
“We talked about recreating one of his murals on a downtown building,” Loewentstein said. “Bill knew that he wasn’t physically able to do the work himself but he dreamed of having it done.”
Howe graduated from Ottawa University in 1951 with a degree in biology. His father was an entomologist and would often take Bill on trips to collect butterflies and that sparked a life-long love and inspired his work.
After Howe’s death in 2009, Loewentstein still carried with him the dream that his friend has told him. He shared the vision with Sue Dunlap of the Ottawa Community Arts Council and Lenni Giacin from the Ottawa Main Street Association and Susan Rader of Franklin County Tourism and a plan began to form.
“They were super excited about it,” he said. “We sat down and developed a budget and a three-year plan.”
That plan was presented Friday afternoon at Washburn Towers. The building is home to Howe’s signature work on a wall in the former school. It includes the recreation of Howe’s work as public murals. The group is currently looking for a downtown building that would allow them to recreate the mural. Loewenstein said the building should be in good condition and have enough space for the needed equipment to paint. Giacin hopes the location of the mural would have significance to the city as a destination location for travelers.
Long term plans include a permanent exhibit of Howe’s work and the creation of educational material on the Monarch butterfly and a plan to preserve Howe’s art.
Another possible idea was to paint smaller butterflies around the town that Ottawa visitors can search for. Giacin said there are many possible ways the city could promote Howe’s art and legacy.
That legacy includes hundreds of colored pencil or watercolor creations. His art is also on display at the Smithsonian Institute and the Los Angeles County Musuem. He has edited and illustrated books like Our Butterflies and Moths in 1963 and Butterflies of North America in 1975.
The group estimates the initial cost at around $15,000 and they hope to have the mural done early this year. Fundraising is underway and will include private donations and grant funding. Donations are accepted at the Ottawa Main Street Association office, and donations will soon be accepted on the website.