Graceful Horses Take Up Residence at Botanic Gardens

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A special treat awaits visitors to the Denver Botanic Gardens this summer.

A special treat awaits visitors to the Denver Botanic Gardens this summer. Fifteen life-sized horse sculptures by artist Deborah Butterfield are now on display throughout the gardens for The Nature of Horses exhibition.

Deborah Kay Butterfield, age 66, is an American artist who divides her time between studios in Montana and Hawaii. She is well known for creating horse sculptures that look like they’re made of wooden sticks, but they aren’t! They are actually made of bronze that is painted and waxed. To create this effect, Butterfield works with a foundry to cast each stick in plaster to make a mold of the stick, then the foundry pours molten bronze into the plaster mold. After the bronze has hardened, the mold is broken so that the finished bronze stick can be removed. Then, the foundry welds the pieces together following Butterfield’s design.

You might be asking yourself, why make sculptures of horses and not of people or some other kind of animal? “I wanted to do art about what I felt in my personal life, but I didn’t want to be, to show myself that way as a woman, so I just started making horses as if they were me.” says Butterfield.

You might also be asking yourself, why not just make the sculptures out of wood instead of bronze? “Sometimes the wood that is the most beautiful is the most fragile. It’s just one step away from decomposing. Like lace.” says Butterfield. “And I couldn’t make this piece, it would be all wobbly. If it were really wood, there’s no way you could make it hang together like this. It has to be in bronze so that I’m able to let it go and live its own life.” Looking at these beautiful horse sculptures, it really does feel like there is a life in them.

The Nature of Horses exhibition is currently open and runs through October 18, 2015 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. See the horses for free on one of these upcoming SCFD Free Days: Tuesday, July 21, Monday, August 31 and Wednesday, September 9.