Untitled (Nativity)

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    Photo: Richard Gaspari, 1981
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 window shield with cutout designs features the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus leaving Bethlehem on a donkey, bound for Egypt, and surrounded by stars, hearts, and other symbols. These shields resemble Haitian cut-steel artworks made for religious societies, shop signs, and, later, tourists. —Maude Southwell Wahlman