A leader in both the contemporary metals and enameling fields, Harlan W. Butt produces superbly crafted, intimately scaled vessels in copper, silver, enamel and brass. While having their roots in utilitarian form, his exquisite objects with their richly layered metaphors rise to the level of fine metal sculpture. For more than thirty years, Butt has investigated mankind’s relationship to nature – or, in his words, ‘the earth beneath our feet’ – as he explores the spiritual implications of simple natural things.
Butt describes his abiding interest in nature in the following terms: “I have used the tops of my vessels as a stage to spotlight a scene from nature. In the series entitled ‘Earth Beneath Our Feet’ I have tried to describe a landscape that exists, not as a view of the distance or as a window of observation opening out to a panoramic horizon, but as the place on which we stand. The viewer is part of the landscape not apart from it. Within these vignettes I have described scenes in nature: a snake sneaking up behind a frog, a butterfly alighting upon some elk scat. The scene often tries to describe both the beauty and the disturbing character of nature or the simultaneous delicacy and crudeness of nature from a human perspective.”
In both its form and content, Harlan Butt’s work has been profoundly influenced by Japanese philosophy and aesthetics. His interest in nature, simplicity, asymmetry, and indeed, in enamel, itself, emerge from his exploration of Asian cultural traditions. Butt is also a poet and the traditional Japanese haiku, a highly succinct form of expression, is his preferred vehicle. Occasionally words or fragments of words appear on his vessels, lending rich layers of depth to his work.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Harlan W. Butt studied metalsmithing at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia where he received his BFA in 1972. He continued his work with metals at Southern Illinois University where he was awarded his MFA in 1974. A committed educator, Butt has taught at the University of North Texas in Denton since 1976.
Harlan Butt's work is part of the collections of many museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, England, the Museum of Arts & Design, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC. For additional information on the artist, visit his website: http://www.harlanbutt.com, or go the Links page on this website.