Raffaele Paglia’s art takes wing at Seaside Art Gallery

By on December 27, 2022

Paglia stands before a collection of his winged-creature creations. (Photo by Mary Ellen Riddle )

Raffaele Paglia spends his time feeding his creativity and feasting on nature. Witnessing a return of Jersey tiger moths at Petaloudes Valley on the Island of Rhodes, Greece inspired his latest creative endeavor that is enlivening galleries in North Carolina and Virginia.

“It was August 1990, and it was hot, but the valley was slightly cooler,” said Paglia in a Voice interview. “It was just amazing to see so many moths all in one place.” He was visiting their annual resting point and breeding spot. The experience transformed into shadow boxes filled with handcrafted moths and butterflies from multiple countries.

His art, highlighting winged creatures from Africa, Brazil, and North Carolina, graces a wall in Seaside Art Gallery in Nags Head. Paglia chooses a new country from which to create his creatures twice a year. Species in this exhibit include yellow sulphurs, metalmarks, skippers, purple tips, red peacocks, blue temoras, crimson tiger moths, melachites, paradise skipper, mother of pearl, and long tailed skippers. There can be 70-110 butterflies and moths in a specific work of art depending on the size of the box.

Bringing attention to the many butterfly and moth species is part of Paglia’s mission. His current job working at the NC Aquarium as the store’s assistant manager has exposed him to the aquarium’s conservation efforts. Protecting wildlife was Paglia’s focus in his 2020 aquarium exhibit of hand-painted and repurposed skim boards featuring sea turtles. One work drew attention to the danger of turtles ingesting plastic that can resemble jellyfish.

Prior to coming to the Outer Banks, where he always wanted to live, Paglia, who resides in Manteo, worked at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher for eight years. He was drawn to both jobs through an interest in oceanography he had in his youth.

Metelyky contains the colors of the Ukranian flag.

Born to an American father and mother from Naples, Italy, Paglia grew up in both countries. His mother was a model and landscape painter, and his father had a talent for creating charcoal and pencil drawings.

He studied art basics at Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University and fashion design at Instituto Artistico Del’ Abbigliamento Maragoni in Milan. He worked in the fashion industry in Milan for 10 years, working for Luciano Soprani and Claudio la Viola and in New York for top companies such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Frye and Halston. Paglia has had design roles in plays such as Cats and Wicked. He has also done costume design and been a wardrobe supervisor for motion pictures. In addition, he did a chef internship at a restaurant in Florence Italy and later moved to the Wilmington, North Carolina area to work as a chef in a restaurant his brother co-owned.

“I think it all relates, he explained. “I always say, in the kitchen you eat with your eyes first. So, you get back to color and composition.”

The handcrafting in his winged-creature creations is labor intensive as the artist works to make the butterflies, moths and their environment lifelike and sturdy. Each insect is skillfully drawn on card stock and realistically colored, creating patterns on the wings with markers and colored pencils. He carefully cuts out the creatures and uses wood hand tools to roll the wings to mimic movement. A sense of depth is achieved by his placement of insects and natural foliage – some glued on or behind the greenery and massing together. “I just want them to look like they are moving in all directions,” said Paglia.

To create an accompanying habitat, he works with natural elements that visually resemble those found in the country he is representing. Butterflies cling to various grasses, eucalyptus and white birch branches, for example, which also seem to move as they intersect the creatures. Together, in Paglia’s hands, the elements form arresting compositions.

Paglia uses his artistic abilities to further his causes. By drawing viewers to stunning turtle shell patterns in the past and a rainbow assortment of colors of butterflies and moths today, he hopes they will inspire us to protect such beauty.

Paglia’s concern over the war in Ukraine also was integrated into his current exhibit. Departing from realism, two boxes are filled with bright blue and yellow butterflies, depicting the colors of the Ukrainian flag. He titled the works metelyky, which is the Ukrainian word for butterfly.

He is doing his part by contributing a part of the sale from Ukrainian works to the International Rescue Committee. “They are suffering and need our help,” he says of the Ukrainian people. “And this doesn’t seem it’s going to be over any time soon, so we must stand steadfast in our support for the duration.”

Paglia’s ability to create heartfelt art is not only a testimony to his sensitivity, but to his upbringing and education

“I always kind of felt that this is the path for me,” Paglia said about the arts. “The foundation was there. I’ve come to find my own way.”

Raffaele Paglia’s Butterfly Shadow Boxes on display at the Seaside Art Gallery, 2716 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Closed January 2.  


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Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

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  • Glenn

    Beautiful…will definitely have to check out the exhibit. Thanks for sharing.

    Tuesday, Dec 27 @ 5:41 pm
  • David Smith

    Beautiful stuff. Melanie Smith and her staff at Seaside are wonderful. My checkbook has been dented numerous times from there.

    Tuesday, Dec 27 @ 9:18 pm