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Inspired Artist Heidi Mraz unveils “Aerodynamics by Entomology”, crafted from 1000 butterflies to portray the metamorphosis of Porsche’s 917 from an unstable monster
to an immortal race car


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Images courtesy of Heidi Mraz

Great Falls, VA (September 29, 2021) – Several years ago, artist and documentarian Heidi Mraz heard the extraordinary but still obscure anecdote behind the creation of the legendary Porsche 917. Dedicated to preserving and uncovering automotive history, Heidi Mraz was inspired by this important moment in Porsche’s past and began to ideate on how to tell this story using her art as a vehicle. The result is “Aerodynamics by Entomology”, a 4 by 6 foot (48”x72”) vibrant, multi-layer piece of art.

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In 1969, following a lethal crash at Le Mans, Porsche’s engineers and Works drivers took the dangerously unstable 917 out to the Osterreichring racetrack in Austria to see if they could determine why it tended to lift off the track at high speed. An excerpt from “Gulf 917” by Jay Gillotti stated, “In hindsight, the handling problems that the drivers initially complained about with the 917 can be seen as rooted in the aerodynamics. It is also important to remember that aerodynamics for racing cars was still something of a black art in 1969. Formula One cars had only just sprouted primitive wings and ground-effect tunnels were still years away.”

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When the car returned to the pit, Porsche’s JWAE team manager and engineer, John Horsman, noticed dead gnats covering the car except on the rear spoilers. Horsman realized that this meant there was little or no airflow to the tail and therefore insufficient downforce to keep the car on the track at speed. Horsman quickly modified the car with aluminum sheets and duct tape and, on the next test drive, the Works driver was able to race around the circuit at record speed while keeping the 917 on the asphalt. Driver Brian Redman was thrilled with the modifications and famously proclaimed, “Now it’s a racing car!” Porsche’s 917 would go on to become the overall winner at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971 and continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest racing legends of all time, despite a racing career cut short due to evolving FIA regulations.

“The little-known account of John Horsman’s epiphany and how he modified the 917 inspired me on so many levels that I felt the need to share the story through my art.” says Heidi Mraz. “Using butterflies as the medium was a natural choice. Symbolically, butterflies draw a variety of parallels to the 917’s story. They are an insect like the dead gnats that covered the car; both the 917 and the butterfly are lightweight, and each needed to undergo a metamorphosis in order to mature. Both are also symbols of immortality despite having short life cycles.”

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“Aerodynamics by Entomology” is a spectacular assemblage portrait of one of the greatest known Porsche 917Ks – Chassis 917-022 – in existence and entered Hollywood stardom after its debut in the movie, “Le Mans” starring Steve McQueen. This extraordinary piece of art is made from approximately 1000 paper butterflies and other insects that match the iconic Gulf car’s blue and orange racing livery. Hand-cut, placed and pinned, the butterflies add poignant dimension and illusion of movement to the artistic portrayal of the 917.

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Heidi Mraz selected chassis 917-022 for the portrait because of its iconic status, plus she had the opportunity to view the car in person when it took part of the featured class of 13 Porsche 917s at the 70th Annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The rare gathering allowed Mraz the unique chance to collect more primary source information about the race cars. Mraz then committed to creating an additional entomology-inspired piece, the 917 Specimen Box, that highlights each of the 917s with butterfly shaped cut-outs created from photos gathered on the lawn at Pebble Beach.

Heidi Mraz’s latest work of art, “Aerodynamics by Entomology,” and the 917 Specimen Box are creative assemblages of passion and respect for Porsche’s racing history, realized through collages of memories and unique ephemera reflecting the history and the gathering of Porsche 917 legends at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance.

Heidi Mraz is an internationally acclaimed contemporary fine artist and automotive documentarian working in Great Falls, Virginia. Her car-inspired artworks are part of several international art collections, and her clients include some of the world’s foremost automotive collectors, brands and museums. A member of the Guild of Motoring Artists, Mraz is also an Artist Pro-Tem for the prestigious Torpedo Factory Art Center in Virginia. She has been the official poster artist for Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance in North Carolina and for the Art in Motion Concours in New York and is commissioned annually to paint the winning cars of the globally renowned Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. She is a consulting curator for The White Collection in San Francisco and has judged several major American concours. Mraz has authored a book for a private collector on the 1951 OSCA MT4 Vignale and currently has a feature-length documentary in production, entitled “AUTOMOTIVE ARTIFACTS”, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes work of her historically-inspired automotive assemblages. In 2022 she was recognized as one of the world’s leading automotive artists and invited to exhibit her artwork at Sotheby’s in London as part of the Royal Automobile Club’s London Motoring Week. 

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