Deborah Butterfield MMoCA Collects

American, 1949

Click images to enlarge
Deborah Butterfield
Deborah Butterfield, Dapple Gray, wire and steel, 1980

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.

Related Topics

Suggested Readings

Gordon, Robert, et al. Horses: Deborah Butterfield. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.

Tucker, Marcia. The Art of Deborah Butterfield. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992.

Lesson Plans

Deborah Butterfield, Dapple Gray, 1980, wire and steel, 25 x 40 x 12 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Mr. and Mrs. Julian Harris. 81.0.9 Art © Deborah Butterfield/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Reproduction of this image, including downloading, is prohibited without written permission from VAGA, 350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2820, New York, NY; telephone: 212.736.6666; fax: 212.736.6767; email:; web: