Painted and welded steel
75 × 108 × 25 inches

Photography not permitted
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift of Agnes Bourne, 1991

Location: POB Atrium
GPS: 30.286674,-97.736785

Art and equestrian pursuits have preoccupied Deborah Butterfield since her childhood in Southern California, where she made drawings of the horses she rode. Though she originally intended to study veterinary medicine, she shifted her focus to the arts, studying ceramics in the early 1970s at the University of California, Davis. But after renting a small horse farm, she began making life-sized sculptures of animals—first reindeer, then horses. Throughout the history of art, depictions of horses have appeared primarily in scenes related to either war and conflict or racing and sport. Statues of military and political leaders on horseback appeared in Ancient Greece as early as the sixth century BCE, and were especially common throughout the Renaissance in Europe, when, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, monumental equestrian statues were erected in prominent public places throughout France and Italy.

Since moving to a ranch in Montana in the mid-1970s, the horse has been Butterfield’s primary sculptural subject. Unlike earlier triumphalist renderings, she asserts the grace and poise of the equestrian form. Her sculptures diverge from traditional depictions of racing or rearing horses, which often symbolize aggression and competition. Instead, they evoke a sense of tranquility, showing horses in peaceful and natural poses as they stand, graze, contemplate, and rest. Though she initially sculpted in a realist style, Butterfield switched to using natural materials like mud, sticks, and straw.

In 1980, she experimented with scrap metal: cutting, tearing, bending, denting, hammering, and welding the material. This approach allowed her to depict the intricate anatomical details of living horses with remarkable accuracy. Despite a high degree of abstraction, the sheets of painted, rusted, and welded steel that comprise Vermillion capture the mass and musculature of the animal. Through her decades of training in dressage, Butterfield is attuned not only to the bodies and motions of her horses but also to the materials she uses to represent them. “Different kinds of metal are like different breeds of horses,” she says. “Steel reminds me of Thoroughbreds, for example. Each type has its own tensile strength and its own properties.”


Silhouette of horse sculpture



Deborah Butterfield

American, born 1949

Subject: Assembly

Activity: Create an animal out of found materials

Materials: Small box lid, glue, pipe cleaners, putty, outdoors objects, paint

Vocabulary: Artist, assembly, materials, sculpture, shape, vermillion


Explain to your child that some artists create sculptures by combining different pieces that work together. This is called assembly. This artist made her horse by using assembly. She placed different pieces together in order to make the shape of a horse and then painted it vermillion.


Can you tell what materials the artist used to make this horse?

How did the artist change the materials? How did she make them stick together?

Can you identify the different parts of the horse?

Why did she name her horse Vermillion?


Ask the child to look at the posture of the horse and consider what it is doing. Is it active or resting? Is it happy or sad? Note that even though this sculpture is made out of junk, it is still expressive. 


Find straw, sticks, leaves, stones, pinecones, and other outdoor objects. Ask the child to imagine an animal that he or she would like to make. Use the box lid as a base and help the child assemble the pieces to resemble the animal. Shift the position of the eyes, mouth, and limbs to convey different expressions and activities.


Artist - someone who makes things, such as paintings and sculptures

Assemblage - a work of art made from combining many different things

Materials - the things an artist needs to do artwork, such as paint

Sculpture - a work of art that has height, width, and depth

Shape - an outline of a body, like a circle or square

Vermillion - bright red color

Silhouette of horse sculpture



Deborah Butterfield

American, born 1949

Subject: Symbolic

Activity: Animal portrait

Materials: Pen, pencil, or paint and paper

Vocabulary: Iconic, symbolism


Deborah Butterfield originally went to college to be a veterinarian, but instead she studied art. Bringing her love of animals to her art making, she makes sculptures of horses. In this sculpture Butterfield uses recycled scrap metal that would otherwise be trash.

Horses have been used throughout art history as symbols of strength and victory in paintings and sculpture. There are several examples of sculptures on the UT campus that use horses symbolically. The materials Butterfield chooses, as well as the mood of her horses, differ from traditional depictions of horses, challenging the meanings we associate with this iconic animal.


Based on its posture, how would you describe the mood of this horse?

What do the materials and color suggest about its mood?

Does the sculpture appear to be strong or fragile?

How do the materials differ from the mood of this sculpture?

How does this sculpture compare to other sculptures of horses that you’ve seen?


Think about how you usually see a specific animal depicted. For example, cats and dogs are often shown with their owners in paintings as symbols of loyalty and the comforts of home. Using pen, pencil, or paint, make an image of a familiar animal in a new and different light. What aspects of this animal’s personality or life are not usually shown in works of art? How can your image reinterpret expectations about this animal?


All of Butterfield’s works of horses depict mares, which she originally conceived as symbolic self-portraits, or as the artist describes it, “a metaphorical substitute for herself.” 


Iconic —Something that is an emblem or symbol

Symbolism —Representing an idea or concept through images

Silhouette of horse sculpture



Deborah Butterfield

American, born 1949

Subject: Expressiveness

Activity: Make body tracings depicting emotions

Materials: Large sheet of paper and colored pencils or crayons

Vocabulary: Mood, symbolism, depict, expressive


Deborah Butterfield originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but decided to study art instead. She includes her love of animals in her art by making sculptures of horses using recycled or scrap metal. Some of the metal she uses comes from old cars or buildings that have been torn down and would otherwise be trash. Her unique materials and the delicate poses of her subjects give each of her horse sculptures distinct personalities that express specific moods. Often horses are used in art as symbols of victory or power, so they are portrayed as being very strong or aggressive. Observe how Butterfield’s sculpture is very different from the other horse sculptures on UT’s campus.


What does the horse’s body and posture tell you about the way it feels?

The sculpture is called Vermillion, which is the name of a shade of red. What feelings or ideas do we usually associate with the color red? How does this relate to the mood of the horse?

There are several other sculptures of horses on UT’s campus. How does the attitude of those horses compare to the one we see here?


List several emotions or moods. Experiment by posing your body in different ways that represent those moods. Lay down large sheets of paper on the floor, or ask an adult tack to tape the sheets to a wall. Have a friend trace your poses representing certain emotions onto the paper. Use a different colored pencil or crayon to match each mood you are depicting. Ask another friend to try and guess the emotion that each pose represents.


Depict —To represent by a picture

Expressive —Effectively conveying meaning or feelings

Mood —Mental or emotional state or disposition

Symbolism —Representing an idea or concept through images


Born in San Diego, Deborah Butterfield attended the University of California, Davis, with the intention of studying veterinary medicine. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Davis campus was a lively center for innovative new art. Butterfield decided to become a sculptor instead of a veterinarian and received her MFA in 1973. Three years later she moved to Montana, which was not a typical destination for a young artist.

Funded by National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1977 and 1980, Butterfield was able to work productively on a series of sculptures depicting horses. Within a few years, these works were exhibited at major art museums in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. The artist is an accomplished equestrian, skilled in the formal style known as dressage. Her life-sized sculptures, though not realistic representations of horses, convey her expert knowledge of equine anatomy. “I ride and school my own horses and feel that my art relies heavily upon, and often parallels, my continuing dialogue with them,” she once said. Butterfield continues to live in rural Montana with her husband, artist John Buck.

Vermillion, 1989

Horses have been a motif in art since the ancient Greeks and Romans. Unlike most historical examples, however, Butterfield’s horses do not support a human rider: no victorious king or general, no chap-clad cowboy, not even a diminutive jockey has dominion in her compositions.

Neither does Butterfield depict racing or rearing horses, which typically have symbolized fierce competitiveness, rebellious independence, aggression, and violence. Butterfield’s horses stand, graze, muse, sniff the breeze, or occasionally rest on the ground, as if they were at home in their own pastures. This decidedly undramatic approach reveals something of the artist’s identity: “I first used the horse image as a metaphorical substitute for myself—it was a way of doing a self-portrait, one step removed from the specificity of [me].”

At first Butterfield sculpted her horses in a realistic style, using the traditional medium of plaster. But her goal was not realism, so she counteracted the precise anatomy by painting the surface in arbitrary colors like pink, yellow, and blue. Abandoning plaster, Butterfield sculpted horses from an earthy compound of mud, sticks, and straw—materials from their natural environment.

After a Visiting Artist residency in Jerusalem in 1980, the sculptor tried materials even more removed from tradition and environment. She cut, tore, bent, dented, hammered, and welded scrap metal around a support armature. In this respect she built upon the modern tradition established in the 1950s and 1960s, when American and European sculptors made “junk sculpture” a new category of art. Artists such as John Chamberlain and Jean Tinguely tended to work in abstract styles, whereas Butterfield used crumpled metal and old pipes to capture a marvelously accurate impression of the anatomy of living horses.

After a decade of constructing her sculptures from scrap metal, Butterfield found a more durable way to suggest the natural environment of horses. She composed their bodies from wood twigs and branches, then sent them to a foundry in Walla Walla to be cast in bronze. The skilled technicians at the foundry captured the delicate surfaces of the wood in bronze and applied variegated chemical patinas to simulate the natural color of the weathered wood.

Valerie Fletcher is Senior Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Her research on groundbreaking aspects of international, globalized, and transnational art have resulted in numerous exhibitions and publications. 


Arco Center for Visual Art. Deborah Butterfield: Sculpture. Los Angeles, 1981.

Boettger, Suzaan. “Deborah Butterfield: Oakland Museum.” Artforum (1983): [need page numbers; also is it Suzann or Suzanne?].

Delk, Laurie. “For the Love of Horses: A Conversation with Deborah Butterfield.” Sculpture 24 (December 2005): 42–47.

Gedo, Mary M. “Deborah Butterfield.” Arts Magazine (November 1983): 9.

Gordon, Robert. Deborah Butterfield. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003. Texts by Vicki Hearne, Jane Smiley, and John Yau.

Israel Museum. Deborah Butterfield. Jerusalem, 1981.

Kuspit, Donald, and Marcia Tucker. Horses: The Art of Deborah Butterfield. Coral Gables, FL: Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami; San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992.

Martin, Richard. “A Horse Perceived by Sighted Persons: New Sculptures by Deborah Butterfield.” Arts Magazine 61 (January 1987): 73–75.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York generously loaned twenty-eight modern and contemporary sculptures to Landmarks for display throughout the Austin campus. The collection represents a broad array of artists working in the second half of the twentieth century. The initial sculptures were installed throughout the main campus in September 2008, and a second, smaller group were unveiled at the renovated Bass Concert Hall in January 2009.

Funding for the loan was provided by the Office of the President. This project was the result of a collaborative effort among many, including:


Andrée Bober and Landmarks
Pat Clubb and University Operations
Douglas Dempster and the College of Fine Arts
Landmarks Advisory Committee
William Powers and the Office of the President
David Rea and the Office of Campus Planning
Bill Throop and Project Management and Construction Services
Gary Tinterow and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Samuel Wilson and the Faculty Building Advisory Committee

Project Team

Chuck Agro, transportation, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Andrée Bober, curator and director, Landmarks
Caitlin Corrigan, registrar, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cynthia Iavarone, collections manager, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cliff Koeninger, architect
Ricardo Puemape, Project Management and Construction Services
Kendra Roth, conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Patrick Sheehy, installation services
Nicole Vlado, project manager, Landmarks

Special Thanks

Valerie Fletcher, curatorial contributor
Beth Palazzolo, administrative coordination, University Operations
Russell Pinkston, composer


What’s Past Is Prologue: Inaugurating Landmarks with the Metropolitan Sculptures

With the arrival of twenty-eight modern sculptures on long-term loan from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Landmarks program has begun. Their installation throughout the Austin campus offers a remarkable opportunity to survey some of the major trends in art during the second half of the twentieth century. These sculptures allow us to witness the distinctly modern dialogue between representation and abstraction, as well as the contest between natural and industrial materials. Most of all, we can celebrate their presence as an unprecedented chance to experience works of art first-hand––to appreciate their forms and to understand the underlying ideas.

The Landmarks program perpetuates in Austin one of civilization’s oldest and most enduring traditions: the placing of art in public areas, accessible to nearly everyone and expressive of collectively held ideas. More than five thousand years ago, the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia produced sculptures for urban plazas, government buildings, and places of worship to express political, secular, and religious values. Grand monuments endorsed the ruling elite and commemorated military victories, while images of deities symbolized spiritual beliefs. The original purposes of public art were primarily ideological and didactic, but what has endured through the ages is the physical beauty of the art. In modern times the contexts and goals for public art have changed considerably. In many parts of the world democracy and egalitarianism have supplanted absolute rulers, and explicit religious power has yielded to secular humanism. During the mid-to-late twentieth century (the era when the Metropolitan’s sculptures were created), globalization has redefined the entire world. Societies in Europe and the Americas have became so diverse that cultural authorities can no longer be sure of which systems of meaning and which values, let alone which individuals, should be honored in the traditional ways of public art.

A schism has developed between traditionalists and modernists. In a rapidly changing world those who wanted to preserve the familiar in art have continued to commission representational statues. Modernists, on the other hand, have embraced change and gladly jettisoned the old ways in favor of abstraction. The schism is exemplified by two famous memorials in Washington, D.C., both intended to commemorate the heroic sacrifices of American armed forces. The Marine Corps Memorial (1954) consists of a superbly realistic representation of soldiers struggling to raise the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945. In contrast, the Vietnam Memorial (1982) consists of a massive V-shaped wedge of polished black stone inscribed with What’s Past Is Prologue: Inaugurating Landmarks with the Metropolitan Sculptures July 2008 the names of the dead. At the time it was inaugurated, this monument shocked nearly everyone outside the art world and outraged many of those it intended to commemorate. In response, a group of bronze figures of soldiers was added. But soon, precisely because of its universal form and absence of imagery, the original memorial became a powerful place where all Americans could go to grieve, remember, and pay homage. To most of the art world, this demonstrated beyond a doubt the viability of abstract sculpture for public places.

With America’s increasing wealth and social consciousness in the 1960s many towns began to institute programs of commissioning sculptures for public places. By requiring that 1 or 2 percent of each building’s construction budget be used for art, urban planners sought to improve the living and working environment for millions of people. The main difficulty was agreeing on what kind of art was visually pleasing and, just as important, potentially meaningful to the general public. Two highly publicized examples were the huge, abstract, metal sculptures by Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, in Chicago and Grand Rapids respectively, which at first provoked derision but gradually became a source of community identity and pride.

One way to approach works of art is to consider the historical context in which they were created. During the first half of the twentieth century, life and art underwent radical transformations. Industrial manufacturing supplanted agriculture as the dominant mode of production, people migrated from rural areas to urban centers, women and minorities gained equal rights, warfare expanded to an unprecedented global scale, and technology accelerated the pace of life—and art changed in tandem.


Early in the modern era, many artists believed that a new visual language was needed to replace the Greco-Roman classical figurative traditions that had persisted through two millennia. Photography had made mimesis (accurate depiction of reality) unnecessary in painting and sculpture for the first time in history. Artists were free to conceive radically new approaches, and so abstraction was born, emerging from 1910 to 1920 in Europe. Initially artists simplified and stylized observed reality into organic and angular forms. That first phase soon evolved into making “pure” abstractions with no recognizable sources. From the outset, abstract art carried implicit meanings recognized by artists and informed viewers but largely lost on the general public.

Early abstractionists intended their art to convey their commitment to an ongoing transformation of society. Like Morse code in telegraphy and other new modes of communication fundamentally different from the traditional written word, abstract forms in art could convey meanings—not narrative or literal ones but broad ideas that could speak to an international audience and help advance human consciousness.

During the 1920s and 1930s, artists developed two broad types of abstraction: geometric and biomorphic. Geometry denotes mathematics and suggests such related disciplines as architecture, design, engineering, and logic as well as intangible qualities like analytical thinking and precision—desirable attributes for a rational, communal society. Artists devised a new language of geometry in art: horizontal and vertical elements can convey calm, harmony, and stability (see Harmonious Triad by Beverly Pepper), while rising diagonals can suggest energy and optimism (see Column of Peace by Antoine Pevsner and Square Tilt by Joel Perlman).

In contrast to geometric abstraction, a number of artists favored softer forms and curving contours. Inspired by sources in nature, biomorphic abstractions evoke natural phenomena, biological processes, growth, and ambiguity (see Big Indian Mountain by Raoul Hague, Source by Hans Hokanson, and Untitled [Seven Mountains] by Ursula von Rydingsvard). Such works stand in general opposition to the industrial and technological aspects of modern life; they remind us of the fundamental importance of the natural world. Biomorphism was invented and advocated by the surrealists, who believed in the importance of the unconscious mind in creating and understanding modern art. Relying on the Freudian concept of free association, such artists expect viewers to generate their own unique responses to abstract art.

The two types of abstraction began as competing and opposing philosophies, but by the 1950s many artists expertly combined them to suit their expressive needs (see the rhythmic contours of Veduggio Glimpse by Anthony Caro and the disconcerting, hulking forms of Catacombs and Guardian by Seymour Lipton).

By the 1960s, the original philosophical meanings underlying abstraction had mostly faded away, leaving “formalist” aesthetics: the creation and appreciation of pure nonreferential beauty. Formalism dominated much artistic practice from the 1950s through the 1970s, particularly in the United States in the circle around the critic Clement Greenberg. Geometric sculptures became ubiquitous in public places—some complex and sophisticated and some merely competent. A group known as the minimalists advocated an intellectually rigorous, austerely reductivist approach (see Amaryllis by Tony Smith). Other artists went in the opposite direction, toward complexity and a decorative verve (see Kingfish by Peter Reginato). From those extremes emerged the postminimalists, who infused organic vitality into simple, singular forms (see Curve and Shadow No. 2 by Juan Hamilton).


Despite the enthusiasm for abstraction in midcentury, a number of artists insisted on maintaining recognizable human content in their works. Abstraction had alienated many viewers who found it remote or incomprehensible. Yet few artists returned to traditional realism, preferring instead to explore new and evocative modes of representation.

The strongest resurgence occurred in the aftermath of World War II. Many artists, especially in Europe, wanted to pay homage to the sufferings experienced by so many people during the war and to their struggles to rebuild their lives and societies amidst the new fears engendered by the nuclear age and the Cold War. This atmosphere of postwar existential anxiety was poignantly expressed in two museum exhibitions in the 1950s: models for a never-realized Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner at London’s Tate Gallery in 1953 and the avowedly humanist theme of the New Images of Man installation at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1959.

Many postwar sculptors expressed their angst by portraying figures or fragments of bodies as falling, broken, injured, or partially robotic (see Augustus by Bernard Meadows and Figure by Eduardo Paolozzi). Some erudite artists reinterpreted classical myths, particularly those in which a hero challenged the gods and were punished: Icarus, Hephaestus, Prometheus, Sisyphus (see works by Koren der Harootian and Frederick Kiesler). Seymour Lipton created a particularly effective amalgam of figure references within abstract forms that harbor dark inner spaces (see Pioneer, Catacombs, and Guardian).

Representational sculpture was submerged by the tidal wave of abstraction in the 1960s and 1970s, but a new generation insisted on a legible humanist content in art, addressing issues of personal identity and isolation in an impersonal world (see Eyes by Louise Bourgeois and Figure on a Trunk by Magdalena Abakanowicz).

Materials and Methods

Modern sculptors also introduced a new language of materials and methods. In the late nineteenth century, sculpture making had entered a new phase of mass production made possible through technology: bronzes could be produced in large editions by skilled technicians from an artist’s original. The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, for example, was made in several editions, ranging from a dozen life-size bronzes to hundreds of smaller casts. This mechanization and concomitant commodification of art prompted a reaction. Appearing simultaneously in several countries, the “direct carve” movement advocated older craft-based methods and sought to enhance the intrinsic characteristics of natural materials: the color and grain of exotic woods or the veining and crystalline structure of unusual stones. By the 1920s, this aesthetic had gained international prominence, and it persists to this day.

The first generation of direct carvers admired prehistoric, African, Oceanic, and indigenous American artifacts. By adapting the hieratic frontality and stylized forms of those sources to the sleekly refined forms of abstraction, modern sculptors could represent simplified figures linked in sophisticated linear rhythms (see works by Koren der Harootian and Anita Weschler). Recent artists of this orientation tend to work on a larger scale and may roughly cut and hew wood to achieve expressionistic textures (see works by Hans Hokanson and Ursula von Rydingsvard).

Carvers remained a relatively small minority in modern sculpture, far outnumbered by “direct metal” sculptors. Their approach emerged in prewar Europe and burgeoned into an international movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Seeking materials and methods appropriate to the modern Machine Age, artists looked to engineering and construction for inspiration. Instead of using chisels to carve wood and stone, constructivists preferred welding torches to cut and join pieces of metal. Their structures ranged from elegant abstractions to assemblages of cast-off objects.

The industrial analogy and model extended to the sculptors’ own studios, which resembled factory spaces with heavy-duty equipment. Some—like Anthony Caro, Willard Boepple, and Robert Murray—found inspiration in working spontaneously and experimentally with sheet metal: cutting, folding, rolling, welding, soldering, and sometimes painting or burnishing it. Other sculptors, notably Tony Smith, were comfortable with sending models to factories for professional fabrication. Both methods were considered appropriate for a modern world that had been so fundamentally reshaped by industrial manufacture.

In contrast, many sculptors preferred to make assemblages from miscellaneous bits and pieces of scrap, sometimes irreverently called “junk sculpture.” Although artists had experimented with this approach as early as the 1910s, it became a widespread tendency only decades later in the 1950s and 1960s, when sculptors made three-dimensional collages from the detritus of industrial manufacture and mass consumption: rusty machinery, old car parts, squished used paint tubes, broken musical instruments, virtually anything. The motivations for using trash range from simple necessity (when an artist has no money to buy new materials) to antimaterialistic social criticism and environmentalism (sculptors started recycling long before the idea occurred to others).

Regardless of the motivations, a found-object sculpture possesses an inherent dual identity: its former reality as a useful thing and its new reality as art. That dualism inevitably poses an intellectual and visual conundrum for us. Do we see Deborah Butterfield’s Vermillion primarily as a lifelike depiction of a horse or as a composition of rusty, crumpled bits of metal thrown out by a wasteful consumerist society? And what are we to understand from Donald Lipski’s seemingly abstract The West, which consists of decontextualized harbor buoys and lots of corroded pennies? The artists offer clues and hope that we will use our own eyes, intellect, intuition, and imagination to make connections and create meanings.

Landmarks: Sculptures for Inquiring Minds

Unlike works in private collections or even museums, public sculptures exist in our daily environment, interact with our activities, and enter our awareness repeatedly and variously. Beyond the pleasure they bring to viewers already acquainted with art, they can stimulate curiosity and spark new perceptions in the minds of passersby who might otherwise not have much aesthetic experience. As the university’s population seeks knowledge in classes, libraries, and laboratories, the Landmark sculptures can offer other kinds of discoveries. Visitors to the Perry Castañeda-Library, the Nano Science Technology Building, the School of Law, and elsewhere on the campus can now see immediately that the visual arts have a prominent place and come away enriched. Very few campuses or cities can boast so many sculptures of such quality that are free and accessible to all. The twenty-eight sculptures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art proclaim the broad purpose of the Landmarks program: to bring an important new dimension to the life of the university, to the everyday experience of its students, faculty and staff, the citizens of Austin and beyond, and to any person who just crosses the campus.

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Valerie Fletcher is Senior Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Her research on groundbreaking aspects of international, globalized, and transnational art have resulted in numerous exhibitions and publications.