Beachcombing, a few years back, my friend found a piece of driftwood that looked exactly like three horses’ heads rising from the waves. Very cool. But that’s nothing compared to the driftwood horses of artists Matt Torrens, Heather Jansch, and Deborah Butterfield.
The differences between these different artists’ interpretations of “driftwood horse” are striking, but all have achieved a remarkable combination of driftwood’s naturally weathered graceful lines with the powerful majesty of the equine form.
Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta (“Cow Town”) and now living in southern California, the horse rendered in driftwood is a natural subject for sculptor Matt Torrens.
“Spirit,” the driftwood horse head sculpture by Matt Torrens shown here, was exhibited at the California State Fair in Sacramento, August/September 2008. Photograph by laura.bell.
“Each piece of Manzanita driftwood, with its contours and veins, helps bring my otherwise dead-wood sculptures back to life. I strategically select each piece of driftwood based upon its size and character. Naturally occurring notches on the wood help the animals take shape; flaws provide definition and contour; while other pieces are used for their muscle and bone-like appearance. Each sculpture is a unique, one-of-a-kind, work of art.”
Many more photographs of Heather Jansch’s horses in driftwood, bronze and mixed media can be enjoyed courtesy of the Flickr community, and on HeatherJansch.com.
Born on the day of the 75th running of the Kentucky Derby, in San Diego, California, it’s perhaps not surprising that Deborah Butterfield felt an early affinity for the equine world and chose to establish her art studio in Montana. Her one-of-a-kind original driftwood sculptures, cast in bronze, bring something of the horse’s own strength and endurance to the graceful and fragile driftwood pieces, making them suitable for outdoor installations.
“Cabin Creek,” 1999, Bronze: Deborah Butterfield. Photograph by Cliff.
In the following brief excerpts from a 19-minute video documentary produced for the Denver Art Museum, Deborah Butterfield: A Dialogue with the Artist, we see the artist actually creating some of her driftwood horse sculptures while she talks about “the creative process, her relationship with horses, and her philosophy of living. Filmed on location at her studio in Montana, an art foundry in the state of Washington, and the installation in Denver, this is a vivid and insightful portrait of a remarkable artist.”
“It’s more like I’m discovering the personality of the horse that I’m working on. I can’t really preconcieve what it is that will work, and so it’s just trying to see as many things as you can and to incorporate them.”
Perhaps one of Butterfield’s best-known works, the bronze driftwood horse “Monekana” resides at the Smithsonian Institution‘s American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery complex in Washington, DC. Photographs of the piece are by Thomas Guest, top photo, and catface3, below: