MARCELINE, Mo. -- Rebecca Butler has leaves all over her studio, the Budding Artist, in Quincy, Ill. She has live leaves plucked from cottonwood trees in her refrigerator. She has clay leaves spread out on tables. And she has a bowl and other pottery made out of them.
The natural element is symbolic of one of the world's greatest creatives: Walt Disney.
At the back of the Disney Farm in Marceline, Mo., is a large cottonwood tree where Disney would daydream. He called it his "dreaming tree," and it's where he drew inspiration for many of his beloved classic films. Even after achieving fame, he always made it a point to visit the tree whenever he came back home to Marceline.
Incorporating the leaves of that tree in her art is important to Butler because she has been asked to produce art not only for the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline but also for the museum's first fundraising gala and auction, which is hosted by the Walt Disney Company and will be held at Disney World in Florida.
From a phone call to Florida
Butler has been a regular at the Marceline museum for about five years now, and she often drives the nearly two-hour route from Quincy to Disney's hometown.
Her relationship with the museum first started when her sister visited the museum and recommended Butler check it out. She did so but was troubled when she saw a poorly framed flag that once flew only when Disney was at the theme park that bears his name.
At the time, Butler was a framer at Hobby Lobby, and she offered to frame the flag correctly for the museum. Staff accepted her offer, and throughout subsequent visits to the museum, Butler developed a deep appreciation for the museum and its staff's mission of sharing Disney's story of growing up in the small Missouri town.
"I'm close friends with everyone there now," Butler said with a laugh.
A few months ago, museum staff casually mentioned to each other and Butler how they wanted to hold a fundraising gala in Marceline for the museum. Butler was in the room when staff got a phone call from the Walt Disney Company saying it would like to sponsor and host the fundraiser.
"They hung up the phone and then asked if I would do some art for the gala," Butler said. "It's so great of them to think of me and support me as an artist."
The Dreaming Tree Gala will be held Nov. 18 at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. Robert Wilson will be the keynote speaker and share for the first time publicly his experiences working with the Disney family while CEO of Disney's private company Retlaw.
Each of the 1,000 gala guests will get a clay cottonwood leaf with their name on it made by Butler; leaf pottery pieces by the artist will be auctioned off to raise money for the museum; and for those who pledge membership to the museum, they will have their names written on large clay cottonwood leaves that will be hung in the museum.
Each of the leaves are imprinted with the cottonwood leaves plucked directly from the Disney farm, and each piece is baked in a Raku firing oven fueled by those same cottonwood leaves.
Imprinting piece of Marceline
To finish her more than 1,000 clay leaves by the end of October, Butler has a goal to create 33 leaves each day.
"It sounds like a daunting number, but it only takes me a few hours," she explained.
When making the leaves, she starts by rolling out her clay by hand until the slab is the right thickness. Then she grabs the cottonwood leaves from a plastic bag in her refrigerator and presses them into the clay. After lifting up the leaves, a perfect outline of their veins and edges remains.
Once the clay leaves are cut out, Butler bakes them outside, glazes them, then bakes them again. They're stored in her studio's back room until it's time to ship them to Florida for the gala.
"I'm just honored to have this opportunity to create this artwork for Disney and help out the museum," Butler said. "It's such a great museum, and hopefully we can raise a lot of money for it and hold another gala next year."
The Walt Disney Hometown Museum said in a statement regarding the gala that donations help it protect the more than 3,000 artifacts housed in the museum.
More information on the gala and museum can be found at dreamingtreegala.com.