Peter and Paul Butkovich
Proud Laborer’s Sons

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The artist’s parents, Mary and Joseph Butkovich, immigrated to the United States in early 1900s, from what is now called Croatia. Joseph quickly learned English, found factory work and settled the family near Saint Louis, MO. Paul Martin Butkovich was the first in his family to graduate from high school. His passion was to become an artist. Butkovich left home in 1939 to attend the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC. Maybe, the fact he had seven brothers, further, explains his eagerness to leave home. To earn his way in D.C., he worked at the East Potomac Park golf course and the nearby ice rink. Unfortunately, he was forced to return home for personal and financial reasons. He continued to struggle as an artist while helping to run the family business when his three older brothers went off to serve in the Armed Forces. World War II, the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, all would soon influence Butkovich's artistic instincts.

The artist married Mildred Ottwell. As a member of the Machinists’ union, she worked for the Connecticut based, Olin Corporation’s Winchester Division where they made ammunition. A tiny woman, she could, at times, be tougher than the brass bullet casings she inspected. Their two sons, Peter and Paul were often marched through the St. Louis Art Museum as their father studied the Museum's collection of French Masters. As parents, they always emphasized higher education. The oldest son, Paul graduated from University of Illinois. He later completed his Ph.D. at Yale and taught at Florida International University. Peter, following discharge from the Army as a First Lieutenant in 1969, had a successful business career after graduating from Southern Illinois University.


Soon after the war ended, Butkovich found a life long career, 47 years, as a member of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Breaking in as a new member of Wood River, Local 338, he took the hardest of the hard jobs. One such, physically demanding, job was that of “Hod Carrier.” Butkovich mixed sand and cement to make mortar. Then he hauled bricks and mortar on his back, often up ladders, to supply multiple bricklayers. The construction jobs enabled Paul Butkovich to provide for his family. 

A life size bronze, statue of a “Hod Carrier” can be viewed at LIUNA’s Headquarters in Washington, DC. General President, Terry O’Sullivan, presented the artist's widow with a small reproduction as recognition of Butkovich's life time commitment to his art. President O'Sullivan said, "Paul's life and work stands as one of many examples of the diverse talents and passions of Laborers ­ off the job." Butkovich art exhibits, with solid support of Laborers, have been well received from St. Louis to Chicago, in Miami and finally in Hartford, Connecticut. Armand E. Sabitoni, General Secretary ­ Treasurer said in the New England Laborers' Update (2006), "Every Laborer is unique and has unique qualities that they bring to their work and to the greater community." His statement was part of the New England Region's print coverage of the Hartford exhibit.


Some of Butkovich’s early artwork was done with the ambition to become a political cartoonist. He studied the political cartoons of Daniel Fitzpatrick from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Fitzpatrick was the first American cartoonist to warn against the Nazi threat long before WWII began. Butkovich's first real commercial success was the (Black and White) editorial drawing which combined the iconic image of Christ on the Cross with a nuclear, mushroom bomb cloud in the background. It was first published by the Troy Tribune in 1954, eight years before President Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis. The cartoons created by Butkovich's imagination were submitted to Look Magazine, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and other news outlets. A portfolio of 10 cartoons was submitted to Columbia University in 1955, as part of Butkovich's nomination for the Pulitzer in Journalism. The artist's hand written letter was included with the Pulitzer nomination form. Gratefully, all these historical materials have been retained by his son, Peter in Connecticut.


This unique visual art, protested the atomic bombing of Japan, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and warned against the potential for a nuclear holocaust. For more than four decades, Butkovich worked and reworked his nuclear war warning. While the Soviet Union and the United States struggled for world domination in the “Cold War,” Butkovich attempted to capture the finality of nuclear war. His iconic images evolved into surreal, skeletal nuclear combatants with “hands raised in victory that is no victory.” These drawings questioned the unthinkable strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). His sons, like all young school children back then, were taught, unrealistically "duck and cover." 

August, 2015 will be 70 years since the atomic bombing of Japan. President Obama, (Prague ­ April ­ 2009) outlined a plan to work toward a planet free of nuclear arms...


Paul Butkovich was a walking contradiction with "Bluest of Blue Collar Upbringing." Hod Carrier by day, artist by night. Mostly, self taught, he attended the most prestigious of art schools, The Corcoran. Always overly self critical, Butkovich produced incredibly striking images of winter landscapes, portraits, nude figure studies, horse racing scenes, and visionary warnings against nuclear holocaust. But, the artist never sold his artwork. He was influenced greatly by Da Vinci's drawings. Butkovich's personal collection included limited edition prints by Salvador Dali, Ernst Trova, and Henry Moore, England's greatest 20th Century Sculptor. Butkovich's studies of the nude female form were styled after Moore's, renowned, Reclining Female Figures. Most of Butkovich's legacy with over 1,000 images are drawings on paper. For more than fifty years, Butkovich never lost his passion to draw. Before he died in 1996, he completed a foreboding, final self portrait. His face is painted with reds and yellows like a Van Gogh. Around his neck is a greenish shape that puzzles most viewers. It is a large anaconda choking off the artist's ability to breath. Paul Martin Butkovich, used this metaphor to tell the world, like he told his son, Pete, "I can't beat this". The "this" was lung cancer complicated with emphysema. Paul Martin Butkovich chose to die his way. He refused chemo therapy or lung surgery. Undoubtedly, Paul Martin Butkovich is the bravest man his sons will ever know.