The Road Less Traveled Exhibition Series

SHELTER: DAVID BUTLER

Leslie Umberger

May 17 - Sep. 10, 2017

Born in Saint Mary Parish, David Butler (1898–1997) lived in New Hope, near Patterson, Louisiana. In his early sixties, he suffered a work-related accident and was forced to retire. With time on his hands, Butler began to fill his yard with all manner of cutout sculptures. Using the most basic materials and tools, he crafted wildly imaginative and kinetic sculptures that formed the basis for a ”yard show”—an African American tradition common in the South—around his modest home. Colorfully painted and patterned exotic animals, sea creatures, farm animals, and imaginary forms populated his yard.

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Ends Sep. 2017

About this exhibition

Born in Saint Mary Parish, David Butler (1898–1997) lived in New Hope, near Patterson, Louisiana. In his early sixties, he suffered a work-related accident and was forced to retire. With time on his hands, Butler began to fill his yard with all manner of cutout sculptures. Using the most basic materials and tools, he crafted wildly imaginative and kinetic sculptures that formed the basis for a ”yard show”—an African American tradition common in the South—around his modest home. Colorfully painted and patterned exotic animals, sea creatures, farm animals, and imaginary forms populated his yard.

Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, drew comparisons between Butler’s environment and the improvisational quilts made by African American women across the South.

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David Butler, LA, c. 1980. Photo: Richard Gasperi.
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Responder

Leslie Umberger

Leslie Umberger is curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she served for fourteen years as senior curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Interested in folk, self-taught, and vernacular artists with an emphasis on artists who transformed their personal realms into comprehensive art environments, Umberger responded to the work of David Butler.

“David Butler remade the world around him through an array of hammered, cut, bent, painted, and assembled sculptural works that were simultaneously inventive, narrative, aesthetically surprising, and protective. His project was highly personal, yet common threads connect it to an expanse of African American art that pieces together fragments of the available world to meaningfully reshape the surrounding world. The circumstances that drove Butler’s embellished space were both personal and cultural. ”

Dig A Little Deeper...

Read a special Q & A from the responder, Leslie Umberger, in our gallery handout.

If you want to learn even more about David Butler, you can purchase an in-depth publication from our online store or at ARTspace.

The Road Less Traveled Conference

Dig deeper into conference sessions, view panelist bios and abstracts, read session descriptions, and continue the conversation in session forums by visiting The Road Less Traveled conference portal.

Through this web portal, you will be able to share new ideas and broaden the collective knowledge and appreciation of this unique style of art making that was the focus of a yearlong series of exhibitions at the Arts Center.

Learn More

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., Herzfeld Foundation and Sargento Foods Inc. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.

The Road Less Traveled 50th anniversary program was conceived by Amy Horst, deputy director for programming. The exhibitions series was organized and curated by Arts Center Curator Karen Patterson. Special thanks to Emily Schlemowitz, assistant curator, for the curation of Driftless: Nick Engelbert & Ernest Hüpeden and Folk & Fable: Levi Fisher Ames & Albert Zahn, and Amy Chaloupka, guest curator of The World in a Garden: Nek Chand and Volumes: Stella Waitzkin.