Saturday, November 10, 2012

Self-Taught Southern Artist David Butler (1898-1997)


David Butler (1898-1997) filled his yard & the windows of his home in Patterson, Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana, with colorful, fanciful, whimsical sculptural works cut from weathered, discarded tin roofing.

Born in Good Hope, Louisiana, on October 2, 1898, he was raised in a religious family as the first of 8 children. His father was a hard-working carpenter, his mother was a dedicated church lady.

Butler worked with his hands as a grass cutter, sugarcane harvester, farm helper, & buggy driver. Butler turned to art full-time, after he was partially disabled in a sawmill accident. As he sat in his house and looked out, he became disappointed that the colorful flowers he planted in his gardens disappeared during the winter months, Butler began to fashion his brightly painted tin constructions, which he attached to stakes in his yard or to fences so "I could always look out my window and see pretty things."

Butler painted his outdoor sculptures with bright house paint. He also cut designs in flattened sheets of tin & place these over his windows. He was intrigued by the patterns of sunlight cast on his walls & floors by these art window screens. The screens added privacy to his small home sheltering his shy personalit, as neighborhood children loved to visit Butler's yard. Butler first sketched his designs on tin with a crayon. He then cut the piece with a modified ax head & hammer, holding the tin between his legs while sitting on the ground. His designs of fanciful mermaids, cock-birds, sea monsters, flying elephants, fire breathing dragons, cowboys, & even alligators coexist in harmony, beauty, & humor.

Many of his themes were religious; he constructed a Nativity scene every Christmas. He also imaginatively sculpted the more traditional roosters, chickens, lizards, fish, & dogs. His assemblages ranged from the very simple to complex, with one as tall as 8 feet. On occasion his intricate cutouts were decorated with pieces of wood or small plastic animals, toys and flags.

Advancing age forced him to move in with relatives in a nearby town. Butler's creative fervor remained undiminished, however; as he continued to astonish the children in his new neighborhood with his remarkable sculptures, the inspirations for which, he claimed, came from dreams. Butler died amidst his dreams in his sleep at the Saint Mary Guest Home in Moran City, Louisiana, on May 16, 1997, just short of his ninety-ninth birthday.