Have you seen a butterfly lately?
You almost certainly have, because Bob Hankins has given hundreds of his artistic creations to people around Hope. First responders. Seniors. Random people he meets. Chances are you’ve seem them pinned to walls all over town.
Hankins has never asked a penny for his work, even though many folks have told him he should sell his butterflies.
A smile and a thank-you is payment enough.
Lovingly hand-crafted with wooden bodies and polymer-plastic wings, each one of Hankins’ butterflies has a different pattern. In the 85-year-old’s words, “each one comes from his heart.”
The origin story for Hankins’ butterflies is an emotional one.
When his dad died several years back, his son took his ashes to a favourite fishing spot. Harold worked at Jones (Wahleach) Lake for three years and returned often to enjoy the peaceful solitude. Hankins thought it a perfect final resting place.
After the ashes were placed in the water, Hankins and family gathered on a nearby stretch of rocky shore for a cup of coffee.
“It was in the fall and it was cold, and I’ll be damned if this big black butterfly didn’t come flying over,” Hankins recalled. “It landed right where we were standing, and walked around for the longest time. My youngest boy came over and stood there, and the butterfly few up to eye level and just fluttered there in front of him.”
The butterfly flew away, but came back two more times. Each time it settled in the same spot, and Hankins decided it was an omen.
“It was like my dad was coming back to say thank you for bringing his ashes to the lake,” he said, tearing up as he spoke. “A grown man isn’t supposed to cry, but I don’t really care.”
Hankins was living in Surrey at the time, and he liked to make birdhouses. But from that day on he switched to butterflies and before he moved to Hope he had created and given away 600 of them.
“My wife, Margaret, had dementia and she liked to go to a Tim Hortons,” he said. “I’d give her a bag of butterflies, and she’d give them to the ladies who came in after swimming at the pool across the street. She thought it was just wonderful and she wanted to go there every day, so I made up enough butterflies so she could do that.”
Another time, when his wife was staying at Fraser Canyon Hospital, Hankins made a batch of butterflies and applied primer before taking them in.
“I gave the butterflies to them, and they had me come back two or three Tuesdays in a row to watch the older people painting them,” he said. “They just had a ball and it was a lot of fun for me.”
When the COVID pandemic hit, Hankins wanted to boost the spirits of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. He made her a butterfly, and from it he hung three little pieces of wood saying, ‘Be Kind. Be Calm. Be Safe.’
Hankins sent it on its way and hopes it was a nice moment for her in an otherwise challenging time. He never heard from Henry, but he’s fine with that.
“She’s a busy woman,” he said. “I didn’t expect to hear back.”
Hankins was a plumber for decades, and making the butterflies gives him something to do in retirement. He loves what he does and he doesn’t need accolades or attention.
He does have one request though.
If he comes up to you with a butterfly in hand, and offers it to you, take it.
“I do these things out of my heart, and I really feel bad when someone says they don’t want one,” he said. “I can’t wait to get downstairs to make them. It keeps my hands and brain nimble and when I give them to people, I don’t need anything. I’m just happy if they accept them.”