Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Deborah Butterfield: Horses Tour Blueprint

Palma, 1990, Found steel, welded
Deborah Butterfield: Horses presents fifteen cast bronze and found steel sculptures created by contemporary Montana artist Deborah Butterfield. Nine of these sculptures are larger than life size by twenty-five percent or more, and the remaining pieces consist of smaller scale pieces displayed on pedestals. The exhibition is organized by the Yellowstone Art Museum located in Billings, Montana.
Butterfield Biography
Deborah Butterfield is one of the world's leading sculptures and teachers of fine arts, with a solid career and many honors to her credit. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Davis, in 1972, followed by her Masters of Fine Arts degree in 1973. In 1997, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. This honor was repeated in 1998 by Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana. Butterfield's teaching career began in 1974 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In 1979, she joined the staff of Montana State University, Bozeman, as an assistant professor and in 1984 became an adjunct assistant professor and a graduate student consultant. Her honors and awards are numerous and include a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship in 1977; a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1980; a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship in 1980; a Citation for Excellence Award from the UC Davis and Cal Aggie Alumni Association in 1992; and an American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award in 1993.
Butterfield has exhibited across the United States and Europe. Her work is widely collected by private individuals and museums, and she has been commissioned to create site-specific sculptures by a number of significant museums and public sites, including the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Israel Museum; San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art; Oakland Museum; Urban Development Corporation of Boston, Massachusetts - Copley Square; the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Greenwich, Connecticut, Arts Council; the Portland, Oregon, International Airport; the Kansas City Zoo; and the Denver Art Museum.
Tour Details
The Deborah Butterfield: Horses exhibition will make up a significant portion of most tours, and some tours will likely focus on this exhibition only. Tours of the exhibition should focus on the quiet, linear forms of the sculptures themselves, emphasizing the scale, size, materials, and shapes of the materials. One strategy that might be of use would be to let tour groups walk quietly into the gallery just to experience the sculptures—their scale, forms, materials—to, as Butterfield explained, “let people feel the sculptures through their skin” (without actually touching them, of course!) Tours might also focus upon the process by which the sculptures are created and the history of the horse in art (be sure to see the horse in art timeline in the Feature Gallery East). Please note that under no circumstances can the works be touched. Despite their very tactile forms, because the horses are not attached to the floor with bolts, as Nevada Horse is outside, insurance and legal liabilities prevent us from allowing the sculptures to be touched at any time.
You’ll find the Butterfield horses in the feature exhibition gallery on the third floor. At the entrance to the exhibition, displayed in front of the title wall, you’ll find Derby Horse, and around the corner from it, in an intimate space near the “front” of the exhibition are the remaining small scale sculptures in the exhibition. The large-scale sculptures are displayed in the main areas of the gallery. As with many of our exhibitions, there is no prescribed pattern to follow through the gallery.
The Casting Process
Butterfield assembles the original wood sculptures by fastening logs, branches, sticks, planks and boards onto an armature that gives the basic posture of one particular horse. The piece is photographed from all sides and angles, with particular emphasis on the photographs of the areas where individual pieces are joined. These photographs are used to reconstruct the various elements after casting.
A bronze casting of a wood stick is made by taking the natural wood and covering it with ceramic molding material, which is capable of picking up exacting detail. The mold is then kiln-fired; during the firing process the wood is completely burned away. The kiln used to cure the ceramic is then "fired down" (the temperature is reduced), and the ceramic shells are removed. Any ash left from the wood is vacuumed or washed out of the shells. The shells are then taken to the wax-pattern department, where wax heated to a temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit is poured into the cavity within the shell. The pattern maker then pours the hot wax back out while slowly rotating the shell. This process is repeated several times until the wax inside the ceramic shell is 3/16-inch thick. The thickness of the wax will eventually become the thickness of the bronze alloy.
Next, several shells are connected at their tops with wax rods or shafts called "gates." The gated shells are then submerged into a cylindrical form full of plaster-based molding material, which hardens around the ceramic shells. When the plaster molding has set hard, it is placed inside the kiln and fired to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature the wax inside the ceramic shells and the connecting wax gates are melted away. The gates where the wax rods were prior to firing will then guide the flow of metal from the top of the mold into the stick shells.
With the wax gone, the cylindrical form is removed from the kiln and molten bronze is poured through a hole in the top of the form through the voids where the wax rods were previously and into the empty ceramic shells. When the metal has solidified, the plaster and ceramic materials are broken away from the bronze, revealing a metal copy of the original wood.
Once each individual piece of the entire sculpture is cast in bronze, and the pieces are welded together to create the horses’ forms, the metal shop finishes the details by tooling the welds and blemishes to texture the entire surface to appear like wood.
The piece is then sandblasted to prepare it for a patina. A combination of white pigment and chemicals is sprayed and brushed onto the heated bronze. The finished piece is then sealed with heated wax.
Tour Framework
that the Deborah Butterfield: Horses exhibition was organized by the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana, and contains artwork owned mostly by Butterfield rather than other collectors (though there are works loaned back to her and to the NMA) because it is of some personal significance to the artist.
Explain that there are twelve horses in the exhibition proper, and three additional small-scale sculptures have been loaned to the NMA for the exhibition by local collectors here in Reno.
Ask guests to enter the exhibition quietly. Encourage them just to try to absorb their thoughts, feelings, and senses as they approach the sculptures (but please be sure to remind guests not to touch the art!). If guests ask why they can’t touch, we can explain that 1) the art belongs to the artist, not the NMA; 2) the surfaces of the found steel sculptures are quite fragile, and paint and patina can flake off with very little help; 3) insurance liabilities for the sharp metal objects are high; and 4) the smaller, more fragile works can be toppled, as could the very large (and heavy) works, which would be very dangerous.
Ask guests what it feels like to stand next to such a large sculpture as With the Current or Isbelle. Does it feel differently because the sculpture is of a horse, rather than another object? What kinds of feelings or reactions do the large sculptures make you experience?
Ask guests to look closely at Isbelle, Hawaii (Big Island), or one of the smaller cast bronze sculptures such as Pilot (named for the Pilot Peak fire in Montana), Jane, Hunter, or Sugi. What do sculptures appear to be made of? Are they really made of wood? How can you tell?
Explain the “lost stick” lost wax bronze casting process to guests, showing them a piece of driftwood or the bronze stick from the basket at the front desk, or focusing their attention on the display case in the feature gallery east.
Pass around a piece of driftwood, or one of the steel or bronze pieces from the basket at the front desk, and let guests feel the texture and weight of the materials.
Ask guests to look very closely at the coloration and texture of the bronze. Explain that the bronze casting process picks up the nuances of the original wood’s texture, but that the extremely detailed coloration in the patinas contributes to the bronze appearing like “real” wood. Ask them to look for “splatters” of black, white, and grey colors that mimic the appearance of aged wood.
Explain that Butterfield’s artistic influences include Native American, African, and Asian artistic traditions. Her sculptures are inspired by the natural materials she uses to create them. Butterfield also identifies, especially in her early works, influences ranging from bonfires to funeral pyres.
Ask guests to look at With the Current, Forgetting the Other, Rondo, Palma, Billings, or Redhead (in the lobby). Explain that the works are made of pieces of found steel that Butterfield welds together to create the forms of these sculptures. Explain that the rusty patina and remaining painted areas are extremely fragile, and many of the pieces are quite sharp.
Ask guests to consider the meaning of the names of With the Current and Forgetting the Other. Explain that Palma is named for Butterfield’s mother-in-law, and Rondo shares its name with a famous quarter horse line from the 1880s of the King Ranch in Texas. You might also explain that the small scale sculptures Hunter and Sugi share their names with Butterfield’s son and the Japanese word for ‘cedar,’ respectively.
Ask guests to consider how Butterfield’s horse sculptures differ from other kinds of horse art they have seen before. In what ways do the sculptures depict horses differently than, say, depictions by artists of the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907 a.d.), the Lascaux cave paintings, Leonardo da Vinci, Frederic Remington, Edward Borein, Franz Marc, Charles M. Russell, or Maynard Dixon?
Ask guests how, if at all, the fact that many of these creators of famous horse art are men affects their views of Butterfield’s horses? Does Butterfield’s gender have an affect on their interpretation of her work now, or on their interpretation of artwork of horses historically?Ask guests to consider the shapes of horses. Can they see rectangles, triangles, or circles in the forms of the horses? Can they see such shapes in the cast bronze sculptures, in addition to the found steel sculptures?