Ancient Forest was commissioned by John and Mary Pappajohn for the Sculpture Park. Deborah Butterfield uses found materials and assembles them into horse-shaped sculptures that vary in size and media, although most often are comprised of wood.This particular sculpture, at first glance, appears to be composed of bundles of logs and tree-branches (an appearance that conforms to her preference for found materials). However, Ancient Forest‘s constituent elements are in fact made of bronze. Butterfield collected large branches and logs on her ranch in Bozeman, Montana. She then sent them to a foundry in Walla Walla, Washington to be cast in bronze. The skilled technicians at the foundry captured the delicate surfaces of the wood by applying variegated chemical patinas to simulate weathered wood’s natural color and texture. This trompe l’œil treatment the materials allows Ancient Forest to capture the “look” of Butterfield’s other work and still be able to weather the extreme climate conditions to which outdoor sculpture here in the Midwest is subject.
Butterfield’s attachment to nature and a childhood fascination with horses leads her to think of these works as self-portraits; they embody a part of her past and her present. Art historian Wayne L. Roosa describes these iconic works as “ancient, noble, archaeological remains—skeletal and grand.” Ancient Forest‘s larger-than-life size represents the immense love of a horse in the artist’s mind and heart. Ancient Forest is the largest of Butterfield’s horse-sculpture series.