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High Art and Home Accessories

Posted on Sep 1, 2010 by in art, design, furniture, interior design, sculpture, society & aesthetics

Last April I was walking through the temporary exhibits in the design wing of the IHFC during the High Point Market when something caught my eye: a horse head assembled from driftwood. This is one of the major, semi-annual markets of the furniture industry and what was remarkable about the site was that it seemed that the furniture industry was catching up on breakthrough art from 25 years ago. I studied art as an undergraduate in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and earned my BFA in 1992. Just about any of my classmates would have been able to see what I saw: the influence of sculptor and painter Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield’s work broke through the art scene in the early 1980’s. The subject matter of her work, in a variety of materials, was always the same: horses. Her sculptures often embody the lyrical movement of horses through the found materials, often wood, used to construct the bodies of horses.

Here are a couple of photos of Butterfield’s work taken by Steve Rhodes in a 2009 San Francisco installation.

Deborah Butterfield's sculptures of horses at 425 Market St., San Francisco, CA; September 14, 2009; photographed by Steve Rhodes.

The variations that are being offered by several accessory wholesalers are smaller, are composed of more, smaller pieces of wood and typically are horse heads only, not full bodies.

Deborah Butterfield's sculptures of horses at 425 Market St. San Francisco, September 14, 2009; photographed by Steve Rhodes.

It’s  gratifying to see such interesting objects, but at the same time, the artist in me is disturbed to see how easily Butterfield’s influence is co-opted by these wholesalers.  What makes it even more confusing for an artist turned furniture industry insider is the apparent origin of the drift wood horse in the home furnishings: a company called “The Phillips Collection” ( One of the premier collections of impressionist through modern art in the US is known as “The Phillips Collection” ( and is located in Washington DC.

I’m not even going to comment about the pieces that I saw at Market that brought sculpture Louise Nevelson to mind – I’ll save those comments for another post!

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