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Photo of Deborah Butterfield

Deborah Butterfield

Born: 1949

Deborah Butterfield is an important American sculptor who began to show her work in the 1970s. For four decades, the single subject of Butterfield’s art has been the horse. Over the years, she has created a deeply moving series of variations, in style and materials, on this motif. Initially realistic in style, created with plaster over a steel armature, her horses by the mid-1970s were crafted with natural materials, especially mud, clay, and sticks over metal armatures. In later work, Butterfield adopted junk metal and industrial materials such as barbed wire, pipes, and fencing. Since the late 1990s, she has cast her horses in bronze from models of wood and organic materials.

All of Butterfield’s sculptures were initially mares, which she conceived from the first as symbolic self-portraits. “I first used the horse images as a metaphorical substitute for myself–it was a way of doing a self-portrait one step removed from the specificity of Deborah Butterfield.”

The Madison Art Center (now Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) took pride of place in having organized Butterfield’s first solo exhibition in 1976.