What material is this sculpture made of?

Viktoria by Deborah Butterfield. Source: My own photo! Sorry about cutting off the legs – see below for better examples on how exquisitely these sculptures are balanced.

Short answer: Bronze!

Last weekend, I visited the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford for the first time since I’d been chased off for climbing on the OY/YO statue. During my visit, I walked by the sculpture of the horse above. Although it was certainly made by an artist with an excellent eye for equine form, I definitely didn’t give the piece much thought. My friend then pointed out the sculpture was actually wrought from bronze!

Deborah Kass: OY/YO | Cantor Arts Center Exhibitions
OY/YO by Deborah Kass. Not pictured: a person sitting inside the O. Perhaps EH/HE is coming next?

We’ve all seen examples of wood painted to look like bronze and laminate painted to look like wood, but I’d never seen bronze look so much like wood. Perhaps those experienced in working with bronze will not be so impressed – but even if I can envision how the casting was done, the patination is truly beyond me. I wasn’t able to find more information specifically on patination to make bronze look like wood – but if anyone knows – I’d love to learn!

Lost wax bronze casting. Briefly: A) A model is provided by the artist. B) Molds are made of plaster/silicone C) Molten wax is poured into the mold D) Excess wax is poured away leaving a thin wax layer E) Wax copy removed from mold F) Copy is “chased” to remove imperfection G) Copy is “sprued” together to allow casting material to flow/ air to be introduced H) Copy is surrounded by ceramic shell mold of sand-like stucco I) Copy is fired in the kiln to harden the shell and wax is lost J) Bronze is cast into the negative space left by the wax K) Shell is hammered away and sprues removed L) Metal “chasing” to remove imperfections. Source: [2]

Moreover, on second look, the form is quite impressive – there’s just enough abstraction that the viewer has to engage their imagination- yet not so much that the artist’s undeniably deep knowledge of horses doesn’t shine through. Looking more into Deborah Butterfield (b. 1949), her work has focused on driftwood horses for the better part of 40 years. She even cites being born on the same day as the 75th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby as influencing her choice of subject matter.

I seek that fleeting moment of… perfection [in my sculptures]. It’s like life, you might have a fabulous day, but you still have to get up the next morning and do it again.

Deborah Butterfield

For comparison, another prominent sculptor of driftwood horses was Heather Jansch (1948-2021). She was a British sculptor that initially focused on abstract art. She settled into driftwood horses later – with her website also stating she “collaborated over several years with skilled mould-makers at a fine art foundry, at last finding a seminal new method of casting highly complex forms in bronze. The resulting casts brought a new permanence and gravitas to the work.” Not particularly informative. In any case, Jansch’s works are also very impressive – if much less abstract than Butterfield’s.

File:The Eden Horse by Heather Jansch 2002.jpg
Eden Horse by Heather Jansch. Source: [4]

Three other artists came up a few times when looking up driftwood horses: Rita Dee Hudson, James Doran Webb, and Matt Torrens. Mr. Torrens has a cute (if uninformative) video of one of these sculptures coming together.

As a bonus fact, there was also a historical horse named “Driftwood” that sired numerous rodeo and ranch horses and is in the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame. As a bonus from the Cantor Arts Center, I leave you to decipher this text from a truly bizarre exhibit by Ian Cheng at the intersection of art, AI, cognitive science.

“Have you ever gotten high from reading?”


  1. https://museum.stanford.edu/exhibitions/deborah-kass-oyyo
  2. https://www.thesculpturepark.com/lost-wax-bronze-casting/
  3. http://www.artnet.com/artists/deborah-butterfield/
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Eden_Horse_by_Heather_Jansch_2002.jpg
  5. https://www.ritadee.net/
  6. http://www.driftwoodhorse.com/#portfolio.html
  7. https://museum.stanford.edu/exhibitions/ian-cheng-emissary-sunsets-self

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