Erika and I became friends when we were 7 years old. We lived on the same highway in the same unincorporated town. We remained pals throughout school, attended the same college for a while, and even stood up in each other's wedding. Now she's known as the Butterfly Jester, and welding is her passion.
In 2009, Midvale Garden coordinators Rachel Martin and Nancy Gutknecht asked her to create a public art piece that would anchor their garden and make their local school unique. Erika's fanciful creations were a perfect match. With help from the students of Midvale Elementary, she turned ordinary discarded items into a work of art.
I had never seen Erika at work before the filming of my documentary Growing in Knowing: The Gateway to Midvale Gardens. I knew you had to wear a mask when you welded, but I didn't know that the sparks that flew in the air were actually made up of small metal balls. Remarkably, I lost just one lens protector. I also learned that my friend had found a way to work full-time as an artist by developing a philosophy of less perfection and more fun. As we walked the halls of Midvale Elementary, we realized our friendship had come full circle.
In the last hours before installation, Erika engraved the six-panel gateway, Growing in Knowing.
"I just want people to smile when they look at them," she said.
Growing in Knowing: The Gateway to Midvale Gardens screens on Sunday, April 18, 11 a.m., at Monona Terrace as part of the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival. Hear Georgia Lyon and the Butterfly Jester in WORT-89.9 FM's Wisconsin Film Festival broadcast Friday, April 16 from noon to 2 p.m.