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Sport, Science, and Nameless Delight: Nabokov's Wyoming Butterflies

August 22 - December 22, 2004

Considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Vladimir Nabokov had another passion: butterflies. He lived in America for twenty years writing, teaching literature at Wellesley College and Cornell University, and researching butterflies at the American Museum of Natural History and Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. For two decades, Nabokov and his wife Vira spent nearly every summer traveling across the country in pursuit of butterflies, with Wyoming a favored destination. On June 30, 1952, Nabokov and his wife Vira stayed in Laramie at the Lazy U Motel on Grand Avenue. The next day they traveled over the Snowy Range and in the Sierra Madre Mountains above Encampment, where they stayed for two weeks before moving on to Dubois and Jackson Hole. Nabokov's pursuit of butterflies on this trip became the basis for his essay "Butterfly Collecting in Wyoming, 1952" (first published in Lepidopterists' News,July 26, 1953 and later included in Strong Opinions, Nabokov's collection of interviews, essays, and articles).

With objects and images on loan from the Nabokov Archives in the New York Public Library's Berg Collection, the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Wyoming insect collection, and Nabokov's son Dmitri, this exhibition presents a sampling of butterflies, scientific and artistic butterfly drawings, photographs, objects, and ephemera from throughout Nabokov's life, many of which relate to that 1952 trip. The exhibition also demonstrates the very influential role that the Rocky Mountain West - and Wyoming - played in Nabokov's activities as writer, scientist, and artist.

  • Funded in part by the UW Office of Research, UW English Department, UW Zoology and Physiology Department, UW School of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Advisory Board of the UW Art Museum, and the Wyoming Council for the Humanities.
  • All images courtesy Nabokov Family Archives, Montreux. All rights reserved.


Left: Photograph of Vladimir Nabokov in his mid-twenties to which he has added halo, branch, and butterflies, Berlin, c. 1924

Center: Nabokov's 1969 dedication to his wife Vira in a copy of his Russian novel King, Queen, Knave (newly translated into English by his son Dmitri), which features a fanciful and beautifully-drawn butterfly that fuses elements of two actual species: a Hairstreak and an Australian Lacewing

Right: Dmitri, Vira, and Vladimir Nabokov pose in front of the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, July 1949

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