Zoo Happenings

Virginia Zoo Gets an Elephant Swarming with Butterflies!

City of Norfolk Public Art Program Dedicates Art Project at Virginia Zoo

Norfolk, VA (JAN. 14, 2010) - A new elephant has moved into the Virginia Zoo, and she brought thousands of butterflies with her!  The iconic beast will greet visitors at the front plaza and amaze them with her sheer size and her swarm of butterflies.

This African elephant isn’t a living, breathing creature. She is an incredible piece of art. The life-size elephant sculpture is the latest addition to the City of Norfolk’s Public Art Program.  Created by artist Matthew Gray Palmer of Friday Harbor, Washington, the elephant is comprised of over 10,000 thousand delicate, plasma cut aluminum butterflies.

“The Virginia Zoo is thrilled to be selected as a recipient for the public art program,” notes executive director, Greg Bockheim.  “Visitors will be mesmerized by the elephant’s size, its powerful tusks and intense eyes. We’re proud to be home to this remarkable piece of art and to be part of the City’s important initiative to make art accessible to the community.”

elephant installation

The artist, who was selected by a panel of judges, visited the Zoo before beginning his project and was impressed by the three African elephants on exhibit as well as the Zoo’s lush gardens, including the butterfly garden.  His creation playfully illustrates our interconnection with each other, from the largest terrestrial mammals to the most delicate wind-bound insects. The name of the statue is “All Things Within All Things.”

“This project for the City of Norfolk and the Virginia Zoo provides a tremendous opportunity to reach a wide demographic with multiple layers of meaning,” says Palmer, who is a full-time artist. “There is pleasure at the spectacle of this massive creature composed of such light and delicate creatures.”


The contrast is highlighted by the graceful golden butterfly that rests on the massive elephant’s trunk.  On closer inspection, it is clear that the golden butterfly actually is made up of two small elephants!

The statue was shipped across the country from Washington, and the artist worked with Zoo staff to oversee its installation. E.T. Gresham donated a crane and operators to help move the elephant into place.

Mayor Paul Fraim dedicated the new elephant at a ceremony on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at the Virginia Zoo.


The Norfolk City Council formally established the Public Art Commission and adopted a funding ordinance in 2008.  With this project Norfolk joins the more than 350 other municipalities around the country that actively commission artists to create public artwork. Upcoming projects in Norfolk include artwork at Norview Community Center, Coleman Place Elementary School, Lambert’s Point Community Center, the Light Rail and many others.

For more information about the City’s Public Art Commission, contact Karen Rudd at (757) 664-6883.









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