Mayflies in Our Midst:
Messengers of Hope, Messengers of Healing
Artist Statement
Stephanie Flom

The Mayfly has returned as a symbol of hope for our rivers, our city, our world.

In June of 2001, thousands of adult Mayflies emerged from the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. Extremely sensitive to pollution, this is the first time this order (named Ephemeroptera for their ephemeral life span) descended on our city in 105 years. For over a month these winged fairies perched on downtown office buildings and danced in the nighttime lights of our riverfront parks and stadiums as they spent their 24-hours of life in our midst. Happily, they have returned again this summer and are in the Monongahela River as well as the Allegheny.

Photo of Mayflies in June Installation

Mayflies in June: River Spirits Return
Site Specific Installation
Stephanie Flom, 2001

A few months prior to this emergence, I started an unusual practice of making guided drawings, which led to making cut paper images through the same guided process. I simply follow the scissors. One morning I recognized the shape of the water insects that I studied in college among the spontaneous cutout images. A few weeks later, I would pick up my morning paper to read about the return of the Mayflies to Pittsburgh.

In response to these occurrences I created an installation entitled Mayflies in June: River Spirits Return for an exhibition at the Brew House Gallery in Pittsburgh of women environmental artists. For the installation I cut 147 different mayfly-inspired silhouettes. These cuttings have been recycled into distinct works. I am honored that four of them appear as an icon for this web site.

Traditional cultures held great stock in the power of river fairies. The Slavs called them Rusalki. These "nymphs of the river" were considered protective spirits because of their association with rain, water and fertility. Rusalki were honored with an annual festival each June. Townspeople would place bits of bread, cheese and butter by the river's edge as well as hang strips of cloth in the trees that the fairies would use to make clothing. The weeklong festival was held at the beginning of the summer when the Rusalki emerged from the rivers and went into the fields, meadows and forests. The forest where the Rusalki lived was said to contain a magical well with healing waters.

Mayflies are enchanting spirits. They stir our imaginations. The rivers are not only returning to life with flora and with fauna but also with magic and with myth.


Stephanie Flom is a Research Fellow in the
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University
and the director of the Persephone Project &
the ArtGardens of Pittsburgh


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