Two towering and striking horses immediately greet visitors walking into the front room of the Greg Kucera Gallery in Pioneer Square. Artist Deborah Butterfield created both of the nearly eight-feet-tall sculptures made of unique cast bronze.
Unique cast bronze is a “lost wax” process. In the gallery guide, author Gretel Ehrlich explained how Butterfield creates the horse figures at her studio at the Walla Walla Foundry.
“The wooden horse is actually burned away, the ash blown out. What is left behind is a cast surface that looks so much like wood you can’t believe your eyes,” Ehrlich wrote. “Deborah restores the natural color values of the original wood and applies the patina using concoctions of rust and paint that is brushed on lightly and rubbed off hard.”
In “Three Sorrows,” Butterfield uses maritime-related materials that washed onto the shores of Alaska. They are remnants from the devastating 2011 earthquake in Japan. The quake triggered a tsunami that led to a nuclear disaster at Fukushima. “Three Sorrows” is also surrounded by debris including netting, buoys and driftwood.
In the gallery guide, Butterfield talked about why she decided to use the items. “I have been collecting driftwood and assorted debris all my life, finding beauty and order in the disorder and disintegration of our treasured or discarded everyday objects. Working with the Gulf of Alaska keepers from remote islands in Alaska, I recently had the opportunity to collect a variety of marine debris,” Butterfield said. “Having used colored plastic forms in my horses from similar sources gathered in Iceland and Hawaii, I jumped at this opportunity to use such emotionally, spiritually and tragically infused material.”
In all, there are nine horses on display at the gallery. The sculptures are lifelike and while they’re made of similar materials, each are remarkable in their own way. “Lemon Drop” is composed of found steel. It’s constructed in such a way that viewers can’t help but ponder the effort required to achieve its intricacies. It’s evident Butterfield has intimate knowledge of horses.
“She’s been riding horses since she was a child and owning horses since she was a young adult,” gallery owner Greg Kucera said. “The horse is a meaningful, impactful animal for her.”
He went on to say the smaller horses aren’t meant to be seen as baby horses, foals or colts. They are related to small ceramic horse sculptures found in Chinese culture.
This isn’t the first time Kucera has shown her sculptures. They’ve developed a working relationship spanning more than two decades.
“I love the use of found material in making these pieces and the idea that they are symbols for a past that we no longer enjoy in the sense of how important horses once were,” Kucera said. “If you had a horse, you were automatically in power. That’s no longer true. Horses are no longer the thing that run our farms, that do our warfare. They no longer have the same position in our culture that they once had but I still think it’s a very potent symbol.”
Viewing Butterfield’s horses immediately brought back memories of a visit to the Denver Art Museum a few years ago. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with her work but was taken with a massive red horse named “Orion” made of car parts in the Western exhibit. I loved it so much I had my friend take my picture in front of it. Her work made an indelible impression then and continues today.