Potsherding

by Ann de Bruyn

Douglas Butler

Douglas Butler

Doug is a lifelong writer and relatively recently started exploring creative, expressive photography. He explores photography obsessively—his wife will have you believe—all over the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts as well as the rest of New England and where ever he may find himself. Much like his writing, Doug’s photography strives to be an expression that amounts to more than what can be found simply within the four corners of the finished product. After a yearlong hiatus in his career as an attorney working for large corporations, Doug recently returned to his practice, now representing victims of domestic violence for a non-profit law centre.

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When I was younger, I had a friend who was twice my age in years and four or five times my age in life experience. Darrell seemed adept at anything that fixed his attention or fired his passion. When potsherding with him, that is hunting for indigenous peoples relics in Massachusetts’ spring ploughed fields, Darrell taught me much about discovery, storytelling and conservancy that influences my image making to this day. That influence can be seen in images I’ve made at Foxbard and Bardwell Farms, two of the Pioneer Valley’s first farms, each established in the 18th century.

1 Cusp, Foxbard Aug 22 2020

Foxbard

Lessons Similarities

Darrell was a remarkable outdoorsman. For several years he lived alone in a cabin—with no electricity or running water—on an island set on an isolated lake in the backwoods of Maine. It was there he acquired his encyclopedic knowledge of foraging in the forests of New England. Darrell could tell you which plant could sustain, which could cure and which could injure. A hunter, he used every bit of an animal, even beyond simple sustenance. A talented and diverse artist, he collected deer and moose antler shed in winter, sculpting it with dentist tools into exquisite animistic statues—shamanistic and surreal depictions of elegant, sinuous beings that overtook the flow of the bone.

This seemed even more so when we went ‘potsherding’—that is, methodically plodding the newly ploughed sweetcorn fields of southeastern Massachusetts looking for indigenous people’s artefacts in the fresh furrows.

He was equally adept at pen and ink renderings of the moose and other wildlife of his native Maine. Darrell stood where the clichés ‘jack of all trades’ and ‘font of wisdom’ intersected. This seemed even more so when we went ‘potsherding’—that is, methodically plodding the newly ploughed sweetcorn fields of southeastern Massachusetts looking for indigenous people’s artefacts in the fresh furrows. Fields similar to those I often plod nowadays in the Pioneer Valley looking for nature’s artefacts to place within my frame when image making.

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