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Work and influences
Internationally recognized as one of today’s most important sculptors using ceramics, Woodman's career began in the 1950s as a production potter with the aim of creating objects to enhance everyday life. Since then, the vase has become Woodman’s subject, product, and muse. In deconstructing and reconstructing its form, she has created an exuberant and complex body of sculpture. Its signature is its reflection of a wide range of influences and traditions and an inventive use of color. As she has written, "The centrality of the vase in my work certainly implies a global perspective on art history and production. The container is a symbol — it holds and pours all fluids, stores food and contains everything from flowers to our final remains."
Many of these traditions Woodman has experienced first-hand as she has traveled extensively, finding inspiration in cultures around the world. As recently described by American Ceramics magazine
The dramatic and luminous effect of glazes attracted Woodman to ceramics, leading her to study at the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University. She further developed her passion for clay when she moved to Italy, falling in love with Mediterranean art, a consequential influence for her work.
Having a background in ceramics, it is easy to peg Betty Woodman as a craftsperson. However, upon taking a closer look, Woodman is hardly just that. She is an artist whose work hovers above the line of art and craft, drawing its power from both. Woodman continues to embrace the vessel form, fundamental to ceramics, which she often coalesces with enigmatic whimsical slabs and shapes, providing her with a dynamic three-dimensional canvas.
Remaining at the forefront of modernism, Woodman acknowledges Greek, Aztec and Tang civilizations, alongside Southern Baroque, American Slipware and 17th-century Japanese oribe motifs, using her forms as a device to simultaneously explore the history of vessels and cultures.Betty Woodman’s work evidences a lust for life. Referencing an array of styles and cultures on one object, Woodman challenges her medium and the stigma of the vessel form with a marriage of painting, sculpture and art history.
Education and teaching career
Woodman’s study at The School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University in Alfred, New York, was from 1948 to 1950. She began teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1979, and was made professor emeritus in 1998.
Awards and honors
Woodman's many awards and honors include a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship to Florence Italy in 1966; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1980 and 1986; a New York Foundation for the Arts grant in 1985, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at the Bellagio Study Center, Bellagio, Italy, 1995. In 2006, she received an honorary degree from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University), Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa; a Doctorate in Humane Letters, honoris causa from the University of Colorado in 2007; and an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island in 2009.
Over the course of her lengthy career, Woodman has had numerous solo exhibitions at museums and galleries internationally. Most recently these include Betty Woodman: L’allegra vitalità delle porcellane at the Museo delle Porcellane in the Palazzo Pitti near the Giardino di Boboli in Florence, Italy during 2009 and 2010; her retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Art of Betty Woodman, 2006; as well as Theatres of Betty Woodman at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Lisbon, 2005, traveling to the Ariana Museum, Geneva, Switzerland, 2006; and begin with her first solo show, Salt Glaze at the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, 1970. From 1983 to 2010 Woodman's work was exhibited regularly at Max Protetch Gallery, New York. She is now represented by Salon 94 gallery in New York.
Woodman’s work has frequently been included in group exhibitions since 1968 and is part of more than fifty public collections, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; International Ceramic Museum, Faenza, Italy; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, France; Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Lisbon, Portugal; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; World Ceramic Center, Ichon, Korea and the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Many critics and writers have recognized the value of Woodman’s contribution to dialogues in both ceramics and art. The 2006 monograph, Betty Woodman, was produced in conjunction with her retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and includes essays by Janet Koplos, Barry Schwabsky, and Arthur Danto.
Woodman currently lives and works in New York City and Antella, Italy. Her husband is the artist George Woodman. Her daughter, Francesca Woodman (1958–1981), has become an influential, much exhibited and written about photographer. Their son Charles was born in 1955 and became an associate professor of electronic art at the University of Cincinnati.
- Betty Woodman, Janet Koplos, Barry Schwabsky, and Arthur Danto, The Monacelli Press, 2006, ISBN 1580931685
- Video works Charles Woodman, photographs Francesca Woodman, May 6 - June 16, 2005. Notes for an exhibition at Shirley-Jones Gallery, Yellow Springs, Ohio. Accessed 2007-08-19.
- Charles Woodman page at University of Cincinnati. Accessed 2007-08-19.