Arts Council of Big Sky volunteer Patty Rhea stands next to a Deborah Butterfield sculpture similar to the one coming to Big Sky this fall. This piece—on display at The Big Sky Real Estate Co. in Town Center—was originally made with wood gathered in Hawaii, where Butterfield spends her winters.

Former museum curator Patty Rhea works to bring Butterfield to Big Sky

After relocating to Big Sky with her husband following her retirement as curator for the Rockford Art Museum in Illinois, Moonlight Basin resident Patty Rhea knew she wanted to remain active in the arts.

She admittedly enjoyed a couple years off, but as she drove around Big Sky, she noticed something was missing. “I started to see sites that really felt like they needed art,” Rhea said. “With the rate the community is changing, I really felt passionate that we needed to make a public, long-term plan for art.”

Rhea joined the board of the Arts Council of Big Sky where she started the public art committee—the first of its kind in Big Sky. She’s now the public arts chair for ACBS.

“Any time you have a chance to volunteer in an area you have passion for, it’s just a win-win for the organization and everyone involved,” Rhea said.

All along, Rhea has harbored a vision about Bozeman artist Deborah Butterfield, whose work she’s followed since the 1970s. 

“I just felt like her art is meant to be in Big Sky,” she said.

Rhea’s goal was recently realized, and a seven-foot Deborah Butterfield bronze statue of a driftwood horse will be installed near the Wilson Hotel in Town Center, likely by September this year. The driftwood is gathered by Butterfield from the Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone rivers before being cast in bronze.

“This is a world-renowned artist that has called Montana home for 40 years, and she doesn’t have an outdoor piece here,” said Rhea, who has worked closely with Butterfield on the project. “So, it’s a wonderful story about a local artist being celebrated at home. It’s incredibly meaningful to her.”

Rhea is currently working on the fundraising side of the campaign, which will pay for the $400,000, seven-foot bronze horse statue. In June, the community—for $10—can submit naming ideas for the statue. The winning name will be announced during the unveiling ceremony in the fall. 



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