Butterfield: Capturing the Spirit of Horses

In the artist's first major Midwest show since 2007, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park hosts Essence: The Horses of Deborah Butterfield, an inquisitive look back on decades of Butterfield's work.

As an artist whose repertoire has focused on horses, Essence features 13 of Butterfield's captivating mares. Ranging in scale from life-size to slightly larger-than-life and even including some pedestal-scale sculptures, the exhibition is a display of superior craftsmanship and clever creativity, especially in terms of medium.

"There [is] great variety in terms of material: salvaged steel and metal," said Joe Becherer, Meijer Gardens' chief curator of horticulture and sculpture. "Some of the pieces were originally made from wood, then cast in bronze. There are pieces that were made from an old shipping dock... They really run the gamut of materials."

Though visually, Butterfield's horses do not encompass all the physical markings of the animal - they don't have eyes, nostrils or hooves -- they tell a much bigger story than anatomical makeup can suggest.

"Each one is a kind of portrait of a specific horse that she has known," Becherer said. "It's not a portrait in a literal sense. Really, it's more about the spirit and energy and inner life of these creatures and that's where the title really comes from. It's representing the essence of these creatures."

The story that Butterfield tells is at once quiet and contemplative and also filled with peace and harmony. It shows representations of animals that are docile and nurturing, an opposition to the embodiment of horses in the history of art.

"When you look back [into art history], the horse is going into battle, rearing up with a noble on its back," Becherer said. "It's often times not the horse as creature but the horse as machine that you see in the history of art."

Having an opportunity to see and take part in the serenity and energy of Essence is a kind of reward for Becherer and for those who view it.

"This exhibition really takes you on a journey," he said. "It tells you her story that has been very constant ... I think people appreciate being invited along to that journey. I hope they really find this exhibition meaningful."



Other Art Events / By Heather Rowan

West Michigan Regional (Art) Competition
Lowell Arts! King Gallery, Lowell
Through April 26
Free! lowellartscouncil.org, (616) 897-8545

In its 26th year, this competition highlights artists from all over West Michigan and showcases their work at the Lowell Arts gallery. Juried by Kendall Art History Program Chair, Anne Norcross, all visual media are accepted and prizes are awarded to the top players. 

Heartside/Downtown Grand Rapids
April 13, 6-11 p.m.
Free admission & trolley, reduced admission to GRAM & UICA
artdowntowngr.com, (616) 855-0435

Art.Downtown. features the work of more than 350 local artists in 30 downtown venues and provides great art from a wide variety of mediums, including photography, glass work and performance. The free Grand Rapids Trolley offers transportation to the major venues, making stops at a number of galleries, shops and restaurants. 

Wish You Were Here: Selections from the Mike Van Ark Postcard Collection
Holland Museum
Through August 5
$4-$7 / hollandmuseum.org, (616) 796-3329

Mike Van Ark has been collecting postcards since the 1970s from all around West Michigan. He now owns upwards of 2,700. One of the most collectible items, these pieces of postage once cost a penny to send and have been made out of a variety of materials. Come see the visual history of Holland and other surrounding areas' past century through 300 of Van Ark's postcards.