Arts Council Big Sky welcomes Butterfield home

Time to beautify Town Center Plaza with first major public art installation, a sculpture by world-renowned Montana artist
“We want to let everyone experience the power of public art.” —Brian Hurlbut Arts Counil of Big Sky executive director

Celebrating two “first” milestones, the Arts Council of Big Sky (ACBS) has worked quietly but passionately to raise support for its first major public art installation and Deborah Butterfield—an internationally acclaimed artist and Montana resident since 1977—will place her first work on permanent public display in her home state. 

A larger-than-life horse that appears to be made of wood, but is actually bronze and impervious to the elements and time, will anchor the picturesque plaza outside the new Wilson Hotel on Town Center Avenue in Big Sky. Butterfield’s artwork is on display in public spaces all over the world, but this will be the first time her work will be placed in a permanent outdoor location in Montana. She can be found in museums like the Whitney, MOMA, Smithsonian and many other museums around the world. 

“This is an amazing opportunity to not only showcase one of Montana’s greatest artists, but to have a legacy installation for residents and visitors to appreciate for generations,” said Brian Hurlbut, ACBS executive director. “We want to let everyone experience the power of public art.”

Closer to home, the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, shows her work. Former director of the YAM, Donna Forbes, is quoted as saying she still laments not being able to raise enough money to buy a Deborah Butterfield bronze to stand in front of the YAM. 

“There isn’t an outside Butterfield anywhere in the state of Montana, and that’s a shame,” Forbes said. 

Sparks fly from drills, torches, saws and raw materials in Butterfield’s studio in the heart of the Gallatin Valley, South of Bozeman. The Big Sky piece will be created from pieces of driftwood carefully collected from three local riverbanks: the Gallatin, Yellowstone and Madison. 

Through a lengthy creative process, she forms her sculptures from pieces of bronze that she then patinas by hand to create the look of driftwood. To borrow her words, in 500 years the form will still be as she intended, with all its nuance found in the pinecones and wood grain. 

Butterfield describes her art as a combination of animals and architecture, which is precisely what Big Sky visitors will notice while shopping, dining and resting in Big Sky’s downtown corridor. The piece will be placed with sight lines directing to Lone Peak, the most iconic natural monument in Big Sky. Ultimately, the work is a reflection on technology, transportation, history, wildlife, beauty and our harmonic human relationship to those ideas.    

“We see this installation as the kind of feature that every visitor to Big Sky will want to visit and take their picture in front of,” noted Big Sky Town Center Project Manager Ryan Hamilton. “Not only will it provide a sense of place by connecting modern day Big Sky to its historical ranching roots and natural environment, but it will make it obvious to people who visit that Big Sky values art and culture.”

ACBS board member and chairperson of the public art committee, Patty Rhea, has been a long-time admirer of Butterfield’s work. Rhea forged ahead with an unprecedented capital campaign to raise $400,000 to give both Big Sky and Butterfield an opportunity to benefit from each other. Butterfield’s international appeal will draw collectors, devotees and equestrians from all over the world to Big Sky to see an original piece on display in a gorgeous setting.

During a recent donor-appreciation event, Butterfield invited participants to let their imaginations crawl into the negative space of the sculpture, where humans can inhabit the wisdom and grace of horses. Under Rhea’s leadership, the public art committee has raised two-thirds of the funds needed to purchase, insure and maintain the sculpture in a silent campaign and now asks the public to get involved, too. 

The arts council welcomes everyone who lives in or visits Big Sky to “Pony Up!” – the catchy slogan for the fundraising campaign. A naming contest for the horse will kick off on June 1, 2018, along with a number of activities curated throughout the ACBS’s programming to support this cause. The sixth annual Auction for the Arts will offer a chance to donate during their “paddle raise” portion of the evening on March 22 at the Moonlight Lodge in Big Sky. The Music in the Mountains free summer concerts will offer families the opportunity to build their own sculptures from natural materials, and other found items. ACBS will also work with local schools in the naming contest through the year. 

In September 2018, ACBS and Butterfield will place the sculpture for future generations to enjoy. “The Arts Council of Big Sky isn’t just about Music in the Mountains anymore,” said public art committee member and former board president Tallie Lancey. “Big Sky, as a community, has reached the point in its trajectory where critical infrastructure is in place and it’s time for the heart and soul of its residents to shine.”

In its 29th year as a local nonprofit organization, the ACBS has identified public art as an area of focus in the future as Big Sky develops. Other projects include the colorful utility box art wraps around town, and the installation of a Jim Dolan bronze elk sculpture at the Hummocks and Uplands trailhead. Now, the ACBS is proud to be placing a landmark piece of significant art in the center of town that showcases a Montana artist. 

More can be found out about the project by visiting the Lone Mountain Land Company’s Discovery Center in the Big Sky Town Center, where a smaller Butterfield sculpture will be on display throughout the rest of the winter along with information about this public art initiative. 

Contributions to the project can be made at 

—Arts Council of Big Sky


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