Posted by: Valetta
By Valetta, Regional Center for Women in the Arts
Chester County is known as horse country and many a young girl and woman here devote much of their lives to riding and raising them, but California artist Deborah Butterfield knows horses inside and out. Her magnificent sculptures, primarily in metals such as bronze and steel, wood, and sometimes assorted materials such as mud and straw, evoke the soul of the animal and attest to the artists abiding love of horses. Her exquisite handling of materials, her fine craftsmanship, and devotion to a single theme combine to make Butterfield a leader in the field of tine art sculpture.
Deborah Butterfield was born in 1949 in San Diego, California, on the 75th anniversary of the KentuckyDerby which she says influenced her artistic career. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Davis ’72 and her Masters of Fine Arts degree there in ’73. Growing up she rode horses, and during her college years she worked on a horse farm to earn tuition. She also trained at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Not surprisingly, most of her working career has been spent in Montana where she still works at her studio on a 358 acre property.
Butterfield is often compared to the Italian sculptor Martino Martini in that they both use the horse form exclusively in their work. However, her use of materials is less traditional than his, hers being influenced by natural materials and inspired by Native American, African, and Asian artistic traditions. Butterfield’s trajectory as an artist seems to have followed a steady upward flow from outstanding student to professional, achieving honors, awards, commissions, and important solo shows – in short, she’s had both commercial and artistic recognition.
She never lost her girlhood love of horses – she currently owns three steeds and continues to participate in dressage competitions. Her most recent exhibition in the Philadelphia area was at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, where she showed several of her pieces. RCWA’s excursion to the venue provided an opportunity for area women artists to view and admire the works of this prominent sculptor. Her works are in the permanent collections of major museums in the United States and abroad and can be seen locally at the Delaware Art Museum.
Image: The artist at work on Hawaii Island in 1995