Deborah Butterfield uses pieces of wood, gathered near her farm in Montana and her studio in Hawaii, and forms them into sculptures of horses. She also uses found objects of steel and scrap metal to create her life-size horses, which are tempered by a refinement of gesture and line.
Butterfield grew up in San Diego in the 1950s and 1960s. She received her M.F.A. from U.C. Davis in 1973. When she was in graduate school, she moved onto a horse farm to help pay her rent. In the 1970s, Butterfield made her first horse sculptures from plaster, papier-mâché, mud, and sticks.
In 1980, she traveled to Israel on a Guggenheim grant and worked with steel and other materials, which were the detritus of war. This set her on a course of making horses with found metal objects, welded steel, fused aluminum, copper, and wood. In the mid-1980s, she discovered that bronze could retain the aesthetics of rotting wood in the casting process and gave new life to old wood.
Butterfield has received honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts from Rocky Mountain College in 1997 and Montana State University in 1998.
Her work is held in the Murphy Sculpture Garden of UCLA and in collections of dozens of museums in the United States. Some of these are the Art Institute of Chicago, de Young Museum in San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Palm Springs Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and Walker Art Center.