Seneca Park: Ben
A gift of the Eli M. Schulman Playground Reconstruction Committee, Ben was installed in Seneca Park in 1990. Deborah Butterfield (b. 1949), an artist who specializes in horses, created the bronze sculpture. Although she had been interested in horses since childhood, Butterfield became inspired to use them as her primary subject in the early 1970s, while attending University of California, Davis. At that time, the artist had the chance to live rent-free on a thoroughbred farm in exchange for taking care of the horses, and she felt that it was an offer she could not refuse.
Butterfield says, “I had been teased for drawing horses my whole life so I had sworn them off, but then there I was right back into it. [Then] I did some other animals before I got brave and did my first horses. They were big plaster mares that were naturalistic looking.” Today, her horse sculptures are included in major collections throughout the country including the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago.
Butterfield often makes her sculptures out of wood or scrap metal. She made Ben of bronze, although the sculpture looks as though it is made of many individual pieces of wood. In a 2007 Chicago Reader article entitled “Our Favorite Things,” the writer asserted “every time I visit I have to touch it to be sure it’s not actually made of sticks—it stands in the shade of trees lining a walkway through the park, near where real horses trot by pulling carriages. The thick, intertwined pieces of the horse’s haunches suggest flexing equine muscles, and the turn of its head suggests the leisurely motion of grazing.”