Untitled (First Nativity)

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    Photo: Roger Manley, 1984
late 1960s

Butler made kinetic sculptures, such as whirligigs, and stationary pieces, such as window shields. The window covers and awnings sheltered his house from both the hot Louisiana weather and, he claimed, from spirits. Butler felt compelled to make these "spirit shields" during a period of anxiety after his wife's death in 1968. Daylight passing through these screens would cast moving luminescent images across the floors and walls of the house's rooms. One three-part shield features a Nativity at the bottom, with two free-floating, movable stars and two cross shapes. Three cutout symbols, including a downward-pointing arrow, adorn the center panel. The top has cutout spaces indicating two sheeplike animals facing a fan blade that moves freely below two cutout star shapes. This movable fan could be a reference to the great star that appeared when Christ was born. The window frame was painted blue, brown, and white, with heartlike and triangular outline shapes in contrasting colors. —Maude Southwell Wahlman