Butterfield’s art conveys both a deep love for and a respect for these magnificent animals. Born the same day as the 75th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, Deborah Butterfield has been crafting horses out of scavenged and discarded materials since the 1970’s. At her Montana ranch Butterfield trains, rides and generally bonds with her horses during the summer months. Today there is great demand for her equine sculptures. Sculpting only during the long winter months, Butterfield now may take 3-5 years to complete a work. In her later works, as in our example, Butterfield addresses her sculptures with a more abstract approach. Beginning in 1985 she made a dramatic switch from sticks, mud grass, and wire to bronze for her sculptures, once she discovered what she could do with this metal.
"It was the most fun I ever had. I had all this expressive material that wasn’t long for this world, rotting sticks in piles, and when they were transformed into bronze I could use them. Now I have steel moods and bronze moods."
As a horsewoman Butterfield understands the horse. How she constructs the horse, how she places the sculpture in a certain space is evidence of her acute knowledge of this majestic animal. Yet she also understands the materials—what to use, what to manipulate, and what to change-evidence of her accomplishment as a sculptor. Knowledge of the two creates a work that is the true essence of this creature and her art.
Small Dry Fork Horse, 1978 is a stunning architectural study of a horse, Butterfield’s classic subject. Having begun her career as a feminist sculptor, Butterfield immediately developed an affinity for horses—generally reclining, prone, or at rest—as symbols of femininity, a concept that subverted the traditionally masculine, occasionally chauvinist realm of horsemanship.
OK Harris Works of Art, NY
Anon. sale; Sotheby's NY, 3 May 1988, lot 55
Private collection, Sarasota, Florida
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, NY, 9 May 1996, lot 356
Private collection, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Christie’s NY, 9 March 2021, lot 128