Woman spreads cheer with handmade butterfliesJean Altintop has earned the nickname “Butterfly Lady” from her friends and family members.
Jean Altintop has earned the nickname “Butterfly Lady” from her friends and family members.
Wherever Altintop goes, a trail of butterflies seems to follow. Restaurants, hospitals, retirement homes and hotels throughout the country are adorned with her colorful, handmade paper butterflies.
Altintop leaves her creations just about everywhere she goes, asking for nothing more than a smile in return.
“I never tire of giving smiles,” the Duluth native said. “It’s good for the heart and soul. If for only a brief moment, (the butterflies) may help someone heal or forget pain and sadness. Smiles work wonders.”
Altintop has made butterflies as wedding decorations. She has friends who give them away at church or sell them to raise money for charities. Another friend attaches inspirational psalms to the creations and gives them to missionaries at seminars.
Over the past 14 years, Altintop, who now lives most of the year in the Los Angeles area but still spends time in Duluth, has created so many paper butterflies that she’s lost count — although the number is certainly in the thousands.
Altintop got hooked on the hobby after picking up a butterfly decoration at a consignment shop in Remer, Minn. She decided to model a pattern after the decoration and began making her own butterflies from old magazine pages.
“Even after 14 years, it is amazing how the magazine page evolves into a lovely, beautiful butterfly,” she said. “I’ve never tired of making them.”
In addition to leaving the butterflies during her travels, Altintop often mails them to hospitals and rest homes for patients, nurses, doctors and other staff. She said her favorite moment over the past 14 years was when she was able to distribute them to each patient at the cancer center in Minneapolis where a relative successfully completed cancer treatment.
Her traveling case is full of old magazines and calendars, along with decorative art accessories she uses to enhance her creations. The case is always at her side when she has downtime.
Altintop has fibromyalgia, which she says leaves her with an inability to rest without doing something productive.
“This is my solace,” Altintop said. “I have a lot of downtime, so I figure I should do something significant.”
She gets help making butterflies from her sisters, Kaye Bonneville and Mary Jo Olson, and countless friends. Altintop frequently visits Bonneville, who lives at Spirit Lake Manor in Morgan Park.
Many Spirit Lake Manor residents have Altintop’s butterflies in their apartments, and some have even taken time to make them for others, Bonneville said.
“It’s contagious,” she said. “Everyone is always asking me, ‘When’s your sister coming here again?’”
While visiting Bonneville, Altintop frequently makes her butterflies in the lobby area of the senior apartment facility so other residents can stop by and pick one up.
Resident Shelly Crandall first met Altintop over a year ago. Now, she can often be seen beside the sisters, making her own butterflies.
Crandall smiled as she recalled meeting Altintop for the first time and receiving one of the works of art. She spotted Altintop making butterflies while doing laundry in the building’s laundry room and picked out one she liked.
“I said, ‘I like that one. How much for that one?’” Crandall recalled. “And she said, ‘Can you smile?’ And I smiled and she gave it to me. So then she asked me if I’d like to make one, and I did. And then it caught on in the building.”
There’s a simple explanation behind the building’s sudden phenomenon of paper butterflies, Crandall said.
“They’re fun to make,” she said. “And once you start making them, you can’t stop. It’s a good feeling.”
For Altintop, it’s a feeling that keeps her going, with no end in sight.
She says she needs no recognition, other than knowing that her butterflies continue to brighten the day for others.
“I need no thanks other than the smiles,” she said. “It’s what they do for people that’s important.”