David Butler


filled his yard and the windows of his home in Patterson, Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana, with colorful, whimsical sculptural works cut from discarded tin roofing. Born inGood Hope, Louisiana, on October 2, 1898, he was raised in a religious family as the first of eight children, and helped considerably with the care of his seven siblings.His father was a carpenter while his mother was known for her missionary work on behalf of her community church. Butler worked with his hands, taking jobs as agrass cutter, sugarcane harvester, farmer, and buggy driver.Butler turned to his art full-time after he was partially disabled in a sawmill accident, which is variously reported as having occurred either in the 1940s or 1960s. Hetold his friend and advocate, curator and director William A.Fagaly of the New Orleans Museum of Art, that before his accident he had “whittled wooden boats andanimals,” and had often made pictures of “people picking cotton or fishing, shrimp boats, sugarcane fields,” and other scenes around Saint Mary Parish.Butler’s outdoor sculptures were painted with brightly colored house paint. The yard of his home, which was filled with these cutouts, many wind driven, was visitedfrequently by neighboring children. Many of his themes were religious; he constructed a Nativity scene every Christmas. He favored renderings of fantasy animals: flyingelephants, fire-spitting dragons, and sea monsters, but he also imaginatively sculpted the more traditional roosters, chickens, lizards, fish, dogs, and alligators. Hisassemblages ranged from the very simple to the more complex, with one as tall as eight feet. On occasion his intricate cutouts were decorated with small plastic animals,toys, and flags.Butler died in his sleep at the Saint Mary Guest Home in Moran City, Louisiana, on May 16, 1997, just short of his ninety-ninth birthday. He enjoyed acclaim andrecognition in his lifetime; his work was the subject of a one-man exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1976, organized by William A. Fagaly.
See also
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Sculpture, Folk
Beardsley, John, and Jane Livingston.
Black Folk Art in America: 1930–1980.
Jackson, Miss., 1982.Fagaly, William A.
David Butler.
New Orleans, La., 1976.Kogan, Lee. “David Butler 1898–1997,”
Folk Art,
vol. 22, no. 3 (fall 1997): 36.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1990