Ross Butler, Canadian Artist. How Dawes Black Horse Brewery made his sculptures famous
One man’s determination to pursue his artistic passion
David Butler gives his father’s iconic sculpture a final inspection. Originally commissioned by Dawes Black Horse Brewery, this large plaster cast Percheron hits Miller & Miller’s auction block on June 8th.
Ross Butler knew he had been born to be an artist. But it took years of failure and rejection for him to discover the specific gifts that earned him a reputation as one of the best in the world at his craft.
Butler’s initial artistic endeavors, beginning around 1927, ranged from commercial art for fashion and glamour magazines, to portraits of distinguished citizens. But nothing clicked. In all cases, admits Butler’s son, David, he was “unsuccessful… he suffered a number of rejections.”
The truth was, Butler had never been part of the fashion world, or the upper echelons of society; he was born and raised on a farm near Norwich, Ontario, and carried his rural sensibilities with him all his life. And only when he returned to those roots, in the mid-1930s, did he find his artistic home, as he combined his artistic pursuits with his connection to agriculture.
Ross Butler, California bound, 1938. Photo courtesy of Ross Butler Gallery.
He began to paint and sculpt horses and cows, and work quickly drew the attention of buyers. His art was influenced by the work of the European masters, and he studied every animal painting he could find, but in the end, his work was recognized as unique, personal, and highly skilled. Says David, “He seemed to have an innate talent for portraying animals. He had a feel for the animals.”
According to David Butler, although Ross was devoted to his art, he needed to supplement that income, and remained involved in buying and selling cattle. His cattle connections opened some doors for his art – while helping to develop Canadian Livestock Breed Standards in the mid 1930’s, an exhibit of his paintings at a fair in Columbus, Ohio brought him to the attention of the Percheron Horse Association of America. This influential group of horsemen commissioned the young artist to create sculptures and paintings of the Ideal Percheron.
At the official unveiling at the National Percheron Show in Pomona, California in 1938, Ross was celebrated as “the world’s leading livestock artist”. Photo courtesy of Ross Butler Gallery.
At the official unveiling at the National Percheron Show in Pomona, California in 1938, Ross was celebrated as “the world’s leading livestock artist”.
Butler’s reputation had risen dramatically. The artist had suddenly become the benchmark by which excellence in livestock painting would be judged. Ross Butler prints of “Standard Type” cattle and horses were distributed to schools across Canada. And when the Québec-based Dawes Black Horse Brewery wanted a new logo, there was only one viable option – they commissioned a statue of a black Percheron horse from Ross Butler.
Butler’s creation quickly became the iconic image of the Black Horse Brewery. “ David recalls that 2500 hand-painted plaster casts were made of the larger statue, “but very few survive”. A smaller model was also cast in both aluminum and plaster in an edition of 500 at Dunbar Aluminum Foundry in Kitchener, Ontario.
A smaller model was also cast in both aluminum and plaster in an edition of 500 at Dunbar Aluminum Foundry in Kitchener, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Ross Butler Gallery.
But the sculpture was more than a corporate logo. It is an exquisite example of livestock art, worthy to be placed side by side with the very best in the genre from around the world and across the centuries.
David Butler curates the Ross Butler Gallery in Woodstock, Ontario – the city that was Ross Butler’s home from 1927, when he moved from his family’s farm, until his death in 1995. David says, “This is the first time since my father’s death that a work from the collection has been presented for public auction. It’s a rare opportunity.”
This larger model is mounted on an oval black wooden plinth on the bottom of the cream coloured base with Dawes Black Horse Brewery inscription on the sides. Top of the base is two-tone green with the artist’s signature inscribed. The black horse has silver shoes, braided mane and tail with coloured adornments and a painted halter. This item is considered “cross collectable” and is in high demand. It appeals to the interests of Breweriana aficionados, equestrian enthusiasts, agriculturalists and fine art collectors. It’s also a unique and powerful symbol of one man’s determination to pursue his passion and to make his lifelong dream a reality.
Story by Paul Knowles
Item Estimate: $2000 - 2500
Lot Number: 442
Auction Details: Art, Antiques & Clocks - June 8th, 2019. 10 am.
Live Auction Location: 59 Webster St. New Hamburg, Ontario. N3A 1W8
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