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Six years after destruction, new documentary tells of healing in Joplin

Short documentary, "Butterfly Angels," tells story of healing in Joplin

"Butterfly Angels," a short documentary film, captures the healing powers of the Butterfly Garden & Outlook. The green space provides restorative features for the community. The film was released on the sixth-anniversary of the tornado: May 22, 20
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"Butterfly Angels," a short documentary film, captures the healing powers of the Butterfly Garden & Outlook. The green space provides restorative features for the community. The film was released on the sixth-anniversary of the tornado: May 22, 20

Even after nature destroys, people turn to it as a source for healing.

That’s the theme of a short documentary released Monday to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Joplin tornado. “Butterfly Angels” tells of the healing power of the Butterfly Garden & Outlook at the city’s Cunningham Park. Opening about three years ago, the memorial garden pays tribute to the 161 victims of the 2011 tornado. Monday marks six years after its wide path tore through the city.

The documentary, produced by California-based Stoneworth Studios with the TKF Foundation, features several contributors to the project, including Keith Tidball, a researcher from Cornell who studies the restorative power of nature following a crisis, former Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean, as well as Traci Scooter and Nancy Chikaraishi, professors of architecture at Drury University. Drury students designed and built the garden space with the support of a TKF Foundation grant.

“We know that building these kinds of spaces can help people recover and heal,” Chikaraishi said in the video.

Added Tidball: “When you’re hurt, nature heals. That’s what this is about.”

Colbert-Kean said butterflies became a symbol of comfort and safety, especially for children, after the tornado. “When you hear people’s survival stories, all of the younger kids always mention these butterflies,” she said. “That’s really what was protecting so many kids ... because some of their parents weren’t around, they were hurt. Joplin embraced that butterfly.”

The Butterfly Garden features a healed water feature, a butterfly pavilion, water wall, the steel outlines of homes representing those destroyed by the tornado, a wooden bench and beneath it a communal journal. The TKF Foundation has contributed funding for the development of 125 spaces like the Butterfly Garden around the country. Kathleen Wolf, a research advisor for the nonprofit, said the spaces encourage mindfulness and elicit a sense of solace.

“Even though nature was the source of this catastrophe, people look to nature as a symbol of recovery,” Wolf said by phone. “People come to these places for healing, contemplation and reflection.”

Joplin was hit by a massive EF5 tornado that killed 161 people, injured 1,000, and destroyed 7,500 homes and business on May 22, 2011.Take a look at what Joplin looks like now -- five years later.

To recognize the sixth anniversary, revisit The Star’s coverage of the tragic event and the recovery that followed.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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