The magic of sculpture and storytelling at Polly Hill

The is also a horned man made of wood and covered with foliage along the way. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A downpour one Sunday evening didn’t make “The Message of the Butterflies,” currently on exhibit at Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, any less magical. Potter Bill O’Callaghan and storyteller Robin Tuck have collaborated for the third time to animate the Arboretum’s natural beauty with a modern-day fairy tale narrated through words and sculpture.

Visitors are invited by Mr. O’Callaghan and Mr. Tuck to follow a “butterfly trail” through the Arboretum. Strategically placed placards tell the story of a special little girl wounded by the mockery of a group of other children. A butterfly named Morfamy guides the girl on a journey of discovery populated by the whimsical sculptures of Mr. O’Callaghan, also known as the Mad Potter, with the Arboretum as their setting.

Inside one thicket of trees, visitors will find a nest of painted clay owls. Elsewhere, trees in the Arboretum are filled with little people, open spaces with troubadours, and Trees of Joy to help the girl forget her sorrow. The story told on the placards, which visitors find by following butterfly ribbon-topped arrow signs, encourages her — and visitors as well — to write their woes on pieces of paper and put them in a special nook that is part tree and part cupboard, which can be opened with a brass key. Inside is where the Secrets of Sorrow are kept.

As her journey continues, the little girl sprouts wings like a butterfly in a dream-like transformation facilitated by a magic nectar potion in a ceramic cup set on a sculpture table. With help from her Virgilian guide, she comes to understand that life contains times of joy and of sorrow that come and go. Mr. O’Callaghan and Mr. Tuck make inspired use of the Arboretum’s flora to help tell the tale of this little girl’s journey. It is a story to be enjoyed by both children and adults.

“Message of the Butterflies: A Walk Through Imagination,” through August 15, at Polly Hill Arboretum, West Tisbury, open sunrise to sunset. $5 donation encouraged; free for members and children under 12. For more information, visit