The Art of "True Type" Breed Standards
Ross Butler, Canadian Livestock Artist (1907-1995)
by Irene Crawford-Siano
Born and raised in Norwich, Ross Butler was a direct descendant of the famous Loyalist colonel John Butler and a self-taught artist who made a lasting impresson on the agricultural and art communities in Canada and the United States. Working out of his studio overlooking the Woodstock Town Square, Butler was commissioned by the Ontario government in the 1930s to paint "true types" of Canadian livestock breeds to be used for agricultural education and breeding purposes. Butler's theories of animal proportion significantly influenced agricultural scientists at the University of Guelph. His early portrait of Springbank Snow Countess served as a model for the life-size monument of this famous Holstein cow which identifies Oxford County as the "Dairy Capital" of Canada. Butler was also commissioned by the Percheron breeding association in the United States to sculpt true types, which led to his work creating logo-statues for Black Horse Ale.
A Jersey breeder himself, Butler was a founding father of the Oxford Jersey Club, the Oxford Historical and Museum Society, and the Oxford Breeding Unit, later named the Central Unit, for livestock breeding through artificial insemination. Among his many accomplishments as an artist were the "butter" sculptures of livestock he created for the annual Royal Winter Fair and his true-type paintings of cattle and horse breeds.
Ross Butler's remarkable achievements as an agricultural artist were recognized posthumously in June 1997 when he was inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Extract of "Corpulent Cattle and Milk Machines: Nature, Art and the Ideal Type"
by Michael S. Quinn
-------------- Tomkins, Bakewell and the Collings, with their methods of livestock improvement, established themselves as the "fathers of breed improvement" (Whitlock, 1977). The adoption of their standards of perfection was, at least in part, mediated through visual representation in the form of paintings and prints. They provided forms for other breeders to aspire to. It was obvious to anyone who saw the paintings, prints or animals themselves that formal breeds were a reality; they were there for all to see. However, livestock portraiture was not only important in the establishment of a breed, but in its continuance and "improvement." The rediscovery of Mendel's genetic experiments and the increasing demand for cattle products created a heightened sense of urgency for livestock "improvement" in the first decade of the twentieth century. By this time, the newly formalized breeds of Europe were well established in North America. The following Canadian example illustrates the role portraiture played in cattle breeding.
Jersey cows in Canada have at various times established world records for production, notably those set up by Brampton Basilua in 1933, when she gave 1,313 lb. of butterfat. She was owned by Messrs. B.H. Bull and Son, who had imported her from Jersey and who established a famous high-yielding family from her descendents.
The Brampton herd has had a profound influence on Jersey breeding in Canada and the United States, the owners having imported a large number of outstanding animals from Jersey.
In 1930, a young artist and farmer from Norwich, Ontario was commissioned to do a portrait of the new world champion Jersey Cow from the nearby town of Brampton. The Canadian Jersey Cattle Club was so impressed by Ross Butler's painting that they approached him to create a "model type" for the breed. They wanted a painting of the perfect Jersey Cow. Butler accepted the assignment with relish but was soon faced with a perplexing question: What would this perfect animal look like?
Butler purchased a Jersey heifer of outstanding pedigree named "Major Sea Girl." His plan was to pamper and study her to form a conception of perfect proportions. He began to take various measurements of Major Sea Girl in an attempt to reduce the notion of excellence to something approaching a mathematical formula. His discoveries astonished him:
...from the tip of her nose to her tailsetting, was exactly equal to her largest girth measurement...her height at the withers was equal to her height at the rump and...it was also precisely the distance between her front and rear hooves...The length of the head was a unit measurement duplicated in 22 proportions of her body...from her throat to her dewlap, from dewlap to udder...the length of her neck to her withers, twice from her withers to her hipbones, from hip to pinbone and hip to stifle joint, from stifle to hock, hock to hoof and more (in Webster, 1985).
Butler concluded that the ideal Jersey cow was framed around a perfect square. His perfect animal was a series of boxes within a box, a notion he entitled "Butler's theory of relativity."
Butler extended his theory to other breeds of cattle and then other domestic animals. He quickly became established as the Canadian authority on what was called the True Type, Ideal Type or Standard of Perfection. He was granted one of the widest reaching commissions in Canadian art history when in 1937 he began work on 22 paintings depicting the perfect male and female of every major dairy breed, beef breed and draught horse. The completed series was sent to every school in Canada and rare was the classroom that did not display a print or two on the wall above the blackboard, up there beside the carefully lettered Aa Bb Cc. Generations of daydreaming school children settled their eyes on the bony hips and soft contours of Butler's ideal jersey cow or the great feet and mighty haunches of his perfect Percheron stallion (Webster, 1985).
Klinkenborg, G. (1993). Barnyard biodiversity. Audubon, 95, 1, 78-88.
Webster, M. (1985). Perfection on canvas: Ross Butler's images set husbandry's highest standards. Harrowsmith, 9, 5, 62-71.
Whitlock, R. (1977). Bulls through the ages. Rugby, Warwickshire: Lutterworth Press.]