Saturday, April 7, 2012

Looking for Mr. Butterton


Happy Easter, Happy Spring, and happy whatever else you might be celebrating this time of year! Normally, I’d be putting the finishing touches on the latest adventure of Mr. Butterton and sending it out to his fans. I’m taking a butter lamb break this year but I couldn’t deny his fans a little something. Think of today’s post as Mr. Butterton’s origin story.

Before I start with Mr. B I thought I’d share some history related to butter lamb because some of you are probably thinking, “Great. Another weird thing Erin does/likes. Awesome.” (Somehow you all sound like me when I write dialogue for you.)

For many Eastern European Catholics, the butter lamb is a part of Easter celebrations. It’s a symbol of the Lamb of God, a common descriptor of Jesus in Christian teachings. My family is Polish and Catholic and we have had butter lambs at Easter for as long as I can remember. (The Polish name for butter lamb is baranek wielkanocny.) I’m certain that as a child I didn’t understand the deeper symbolism of the butter lamb; I just thought he was cute. We don’t buy butter lambs; we make them. My mom has a mold and I bought my own after the first adventure. I’m certain my grandmothers had their own molds too.

Now my butter lamb mold was not purchased out of religious devotion (I’m still pretty sure my mom thinks I’m going to hell for doing this) but for artistic reasons. In 2008, I started the Butter Lamb Project, a photo story involving the butter lamb, Peeps, and other Easter themed candy. This started by accident: my friend, Jennifer (also from a Polish Catholic family) and I were talking about the butter lamb (how we got to talking about this I don’t know). This particular year, her mother hadn’t sent her a lamb and she was a bit disappointed. I knew my dad had already made ours (he makes 2 because you never know if you’re going to get an odd looking lamb) so I offered to take a picture of him for her. Instead of one picture I took 30+ and ended up adding captions to tell the story of Bonnie and Clyde, two butter lambs destined to be eaten by a family on Easter. They watched NCAA basketball, hung out with Peeps and chocolate bunnies, and hid around the table. I sent the link around to my family and friends and they sent it to other people and so on and so on. People started asking me what I’d do the next year and so the annual tradition was born.

I visited Detroit over the summer and bought my own butter lamb mold from the Polish market we go to for kielbasa. The next year, Harold the Butter Lamb, went on a quest. This was the first year that I made props and shot on location (my brother’s work, my office, my kitchen table). The story isn’t great but it’s more thought out than the previous year.

In 2010, I opened up naming rights for the next butter lamb. The winners got to have a character named after them in the story. My mom and several friends contributed to the new name and Sebastian Maslo Butterton was born. I called this adventure “Mr. Butterton Goes to Washington” and spent a day taking pictures all over the city. Mr. B posed with Peeps at the Smithsonian and the Lincoln Memorial and rode the Metro. He even witnessed a protest at the White House. This was also the first year I was really in public with the butter lamb so I got a lot of questions throughout the day. One woman asked me if I was working on an entry for the The Washington Post Peep diorama contest (alas, no) and a man at the White House told me I was funny.

Mr. B’s fans also had questions:
1.     Is he really made out of butter? Yes, I save the ends of butter throughout the months before I do this to make him.
2.     Does he get eaten? After Bonnie and Clyde, no. That would be gross.
3.     Do you make all the props? Yes, I make backdrops and other props as needed (protest signs, clothes, etc.). Getting a Peep to stay on a skateboard was not easy. The protest signs were definitely my favorite props to make.
4.     How do you explain the people in the background? He doesn’t interact with them and it seems weird. I don’t, you are clearly taking this more seriously than it should be taken.
5.     How many pictures do you take? Between 90-200 but I only use half for each adventure (so yes, there are outtakes).
6.     What will he do next year? I have no idea. Do you have any suggestions?

When I moved to Alameda last year I decided to do a California themed adventure. Mr. B moved here too and spent the day in San Francisco and made new friends. He even tried to skateboard. I thought I got weird looks in DC but that was nothing compared to the looks I got when I was in the city filming. You’d think people in San Francisco would be used to odd things happening but either I wasn’t odd enough or they just didn’t get it.

I think I’ve become a better photographer as a result of the Butter Lamb Project. The project has always been a way to challenge myself artistically and I feel like I’ve done a good job over the years. Everyone needs a little whimsy in their life and I hope that the Butter Lamb Project has been that for those who have enjoyed it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to think of something grand and wonderful for next year. I couldn’t think of anything that I was really interested in doing this year. With any creative or artistic endeavor you have to be committed to it. If you’re not, it won’t be as good and you won’t enjoy the creative process. I don’t really want that to happen with Mr. B.

Speaking of creative endeavors, check out this Kickstarter project. Andrew is one of my favorite people in the world and the idea behind this project is just amazing. Andrew and Tom are definitely passionate about this project and you should be too!

TOMORROW: A Best of the Butter Lamb Project Photo post. It will be amazing!

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