The historic English Tudor-style manor house walls of the Rollins Mansion this week become home to the abstract expressionist paintings of William Butler.

It should be quite a combination. 

The Rollins Mansion was built in the Roaring ‘20s by a women’s hosiery baron as a copy of an English Tudor home, and is on both the state and national historic registers. Butler’s contemporary paintings are brightly colored, abstract and intended to convey dynamic movement. 

He’ll be painting live at the gallery opening Friday, June 7. A reception will be from 5 to 9 p.m. His paintings, part of a series called Movements, will hang in rooms of the Rollins Mansion event center through December and will be for sale there, said event center owner Joel Woehler.

If Butler’s name sounds familiar to you, chances are you’ve seen him paint live, either at a church service in Des Moines or at a fundraising event. Butler lived in Des Moines for 16 years and started his career here as a graphic designer. Then about six years ago, a pastor at his church, Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, asked if he would do a live painting during Good Friday services that reflected the themes of the sermon. 

“I didn’t really want to do it,” Butler recalled. Although he was always doing some kind of fine art on the side of his graphic design business, this would be painting in front of an audience and he would to finish a painting in an hour and a half. “There’s a lot of risk involved. It would really be putting myself out there,” he said.

On the other hand, his background as a graphic designer gave him skills and experience to convey words and ideas visually, so after some prayer, he agreed to do it. 

The experience launched a new career for him. He regularly painted during holiday services at his church, which has about 15,000 members and attendees. Other churches asked him to do the same thing and soon he was doing live painting at fundraisers, such as one for Bravo Greater Des Moines, an arts advocacy and funding organization. 

Today, Butler, his wife, Ronja, and their two sons live in Camden, N.J., where Butler has a studio and an art gallery - Gallery Eleven One -  in a 1908 firehouse. 

His live painting career has him traveling from coast to coast, painting for weddings, special events and fundraisers, often for organizations working for social justice.

“I don’t have a checkbook where I can write a check for $5,000 or $6,000, but I can partner with those organizations to help,” he said.  Woehler, owner of the Rollins Mansion, has been friends with Butler for several years.

Woehler said he knew that Butler has a fan base in Des Moines, so he thought having the mansion become a Des Moines gallery for his work would be a good, if not necessarily obvious, fit.

“We’re excited about the venue in Des Moines,” Butler said.



William Butler’s Movement series of paintings includes “Rise and Fall” (left), a 24-inch by 48-inch acrylic painting on canvas and “Burst” (right) a 24-inch by 24-inch acrylic painting on canvas. The painting series will be on display and for sale at the Rollins Mansion, 2801 Fleur Drive through December.