The spirit of an old Air Stream trailer lives in this sculpture by Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield has focused her 40-year career mastering her one subject, horses, and she primarily creates her pieces with found objects like wood and scrap metal. Her sculpture at 5th & J was installed in 1983 and is crafted out of aluminum originally from an Air Stream trailer (1).
Butterfield has used a progression materials over the years. In the early years it was natural materials like mud, clay and sticks over metal armatures. Then metal and industrial materials. Recently, she has created her works in wood and organic materials and then has them cast in bronze from those materials. This helps the sculptures withstand time while still maintaining the organic look of the original materials. (2) The casting process is very involved; taking twenty people two to three months to cast a large horse. (3)
Butterfield’s sculptures began as metaphorical self-portraits that she describes on MMoCA Collects as “one step removed from the specificity of Deborah Butterfield.” (4). Over time, her sculptures became less self-portrait and more of an exploration of the horse (5).
Unlike many horse sculptures, Butterfield’s pieces never include a rider or any other human form (6). Neither are her horses executing dramatic movements such as rearing or galloping. Her exploration is of a different nature:
My work is not so overtly about movement. My horses’ gestures are really quite quiet, because real horses move so much better than I could pretend to make things move. For the pieces I make, the gesture is really more within the body, it’s like an internalized gesture, which is more about the content, the state of mind or of being at a given instant. And so it’s more like a painting … the gesture and the movement is all pretty much contained within the body. – Deborah Butterfield (7)
Judy Wagonfeld describes Butterfield’s pieces as “paradoxes of power and vulnerability” which captures them perfectly. This paradox also expresses the nature of horses themselves. Part of Butterfield’s intention for her art is to draw us into an empathic experience where we project ourselves into the form of the horse.
With a Google Image search on her name you can explore an array of her pieces and find which are the easiest for you to project yourself into. As a horse lover all of my life, I’m drawn to many of her pieces, but Vermillion is one that captured my attention the most. It would be an interesting self-exploration to use these horse sculptures to explore different aspects of one’s self.
This particular sculpture came to Sacramento through the efforts of Phil Hitchcock. Hitchcock is an art professor and director of the University Library Gallery at Sac State. He is active in the local Sacramento arts world; serving as a judge for juried shows and as an Advisor for the non-profit Sacramento Art History Consortium.
Hitchcock has also served as an art consultant for local developers (8). An art ltd article describes him “a conduit between builders and artists” in Sacramento. There are ordinances in Sacramento for developers to install public art, but Hitchcock says “90 percent of all the work I have done is for developers who are not required to put one stick of art in their buildings. . . .There are so many of them… and they do it with a real passion.” (9)
Described by Charles Johnson as “stupendous kitsch”, it is a dramatically different expression of the horse from Butterfield’s (11).
Artist: Deborah Butterfield
Media: Aluminum (scrap metal from an Air Stream trailer)
Location: 5th & J
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