Brooklyn, artist, musician, instrument inventor, model builder, son, brother, uncle
One man’s trash is artist Ken Butler’s treasure. Most people who see an aluminum cane, see an aluminum cane. Ken saw something more. He added a tennis racket, a comb, a vegetable slicer, and a few strings and turned it into an instrument that can best be described as a combination viola/mandolin.
“I create something new by reimagining other uses for objects. I can start with anything, a bicycle seat, for instance, and ask myself ‘could I make it into a violin?’ ”
Ken’s first instrument was a violin made from a small hatchet he found in his basement. Something compelled him to put it up to his chin, he added a few other components and played it through his amplifier. It sounded good enough to keep him creating. That was 42 years ago.
His quirky, imaginative mind wows people. He played an axe, a shovel and his head live on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He has also been featured in The New York Times, and in exhibitions and performances at Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Museum, as well as at venues on three other continents. Over the years, he has sold hundreds of his instruments and other works of art.
As part of Young Audiences New York, Ken has also received standing ovations from thousands of New York City public school students for playing his inventive instruments, including a hammer violin, bicycle wheel guitar, tennis racket banjo and a toothbrush violin.
His truest sense of accomplishment is not for any accolades or awards, but the impact he had on the children who saw him perform and the fan letters they wrote. “They wrote amazing, beautiful, thoughtful letters. I am a fortunate man.”
“I am Ken Butler. I am a self-supporting artist and musician without compromise.”