AN ARTIST’S JOURNEY
Growing up in Palo Alto, California, Niki thrived and was inspired by the intellectual and culturally diverse community that formed around Stanford University. Her interest in the arts began when she was in high school, and by the age of sixteen, she had sold her first painting. While in college, she married fellow artist Clyde Butcher. Initially, Niki did not want to get married. She told Clyde that she felt that eighteen was too young, and she wasn’t ready to settle down. She wanted adventure in her life. Unperturbed by her lack of enthusiasm about his proposal, her future husband smiled and said, “Don’t worry about that.”
Niki married Clyde, and they had two children, Jackie and Ted. The family lived an unconventional life raising their children as close to nature as possible. Throughout the 1970s, the family lived in everything from pop-up tents in state and national parks to moorings off the California coast on their 35-foot sailboat. In the 1980s, after selling their photography business, the family
moved to Florida, where the couple sold art at local art fairs. Niki was inspired by her love of vintage postcards, architecture, and nature, although she often painted more commercially-viable subjects to help support the family.
After the death of her 17-year-old son, Niki struggled to find purpose and hope. It was a decision to stop at an old orchid nursery in the middle of the Everglades that altered her life. During a solitary walk on the property, Niki felt a healing peace, and for the first time since Ted’s death, Niki began to visualize what could be. She looked beyond the tacky tourist signs and the dilapidated conditions of the old buildings on the property and imagined a peaceful life immersed in this healing ground. As she began to daydream and envision a home and gallery, she noticed a For Sale sign.
The decision to stop that day led to Niki and Clyde purchasing 13 acres of swampland in the middle of nearly a million acres in Big Cypress National Preserve. Over the next
two decades, the two artists built a home and gallery. They invested their time and energy into introducing and inviting as many people into the swamp as possible. They hoped that once others experienced the beauty and uniqueness of the area, they would want to protect it. Niki stopped that day because she was by herself. She had been curious about the old orchid nursery and wanted to visit it, but her husband always refused to stop. He had attempted to photograph the property several times and had been chased off by the protective, slightly aggressive owner, Leon. Being a careful observer, Niki had noticed the $2 parking sign and had greeted the owner with two crisp dollar bills to gain a peaceful entry.
One of the things Niki hopes her art will do is encourage people to stop and look at things more closely. Whether it is a hidden roadside gem, a quirky or meaningful sign, a unique individual, or the beauty of a solitary mangrove, she invites you to slow down and ponder the possibilities. Niki believes there is an abundance of healing, peace, and affirmation to be found if you look for it. Shortly after purchasing the Big Cypress property, Niki noticed a marker on a telephone pole.
Hanging on the pole was “T-1-17-86.” It was like a nudge from Ted (T), her only (1) son, who passed away at age (17) in 1986 (86), telling her she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
Niki’s love of art and nature, coupled with her desire to celebrate and protect the history of an area, are prevalent in her art. Her unique style of painting photographs acts as a window into her view of the world, allowing you to see the world from the eyes of a persistent, willful optimist. Life has taught her to not take things too seriously. Niki believes that you must look for the light in the darkest times. Sometimes the light comes in the form of a beautiful sunrise, the love of a life partner, the smile of a flamingo-clad woman, or even the hilarity or sweetness of a sign. The key is to keep your eyes open and look for it. Niki’s vision of our world serves as a reminder that we control the filter, we choose what to focus on, and we have the power to learn and grow every day. The good things, the things that make us smile, are easy to find. But there are lessons in the difficult, and those who push through and look for the light will have the opportunity to see just how amazing this life can be