Untitled (Reindeer)

Media - 2016.38.9 - SAAM-2016.38.9_1 - 127006
Copied David Butler, Untitled (Reindeer), 1965, paint on cut and pieced sheet metal, 12 14 × 42 34 in. (31.1 × 108.6 cm), irregular, Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Margaret Z. Robson Collection, Gift of John E. and Douglas O. Robson, 2016.38.9

Artwork Details

Untitled (Reindeer)
Not on view
12 14 × 42 34 in. (31.1 × 108.6 cm), irregular
Credit Line
The Margaret Z. Robson Collection, Gift of John E. and Douglas O. Robson
Mediums Description
paint on cut and pieced sheet metal
  • Abstract
Object Number

Artwork Description

Butler’s embellished home and property manifested practices that, by way of Africa, survived in the Americas. One such Black Atlantic tradition was the “yard show,” a personal place where benevolent spirits are welcomed, evil spirits are rebuffed, and ancestors are honored. Into metal panels of various sizes, Butler incised silhouetted forms, painted them, and affixed some of them over the windows of his home. As the sun’s light traveled across the yard, it reached through the cut-out patterns, creating a reverse shadow puppet–like effect. Within the house, the illuminated shapes appeared bright against the darkened negative spaces, and a sunlit narrative crawled across the shadowed walls as the day went on. Butler often depicted Christian themes, but he also reached into his dreams and imagination, and found the unexpected.
(We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection, 2022)