Betty Woodman (1930 - 2018) was a leading American ceramist whose dazzling inventions with form and color have moved beyond the traditional domain of craft and consistently challenged the limits of the medium.
Betty Woodman first became interested in crafts because her father was a woodworker. In high school, one ceramics course was sufficient to convince Woodman that she wanted to be a functional potter. Studying pottery at the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University, she developed a strong interest in the history of ceramics. Her first job after graduating in 1950 was as a production potter, and that technical facility and experience were to be the foundation of her subsequent innovations. In 1952 Woodman traveled to Italy, where exposure to traditions such as majolica opened her eyes to the potential of clay.
It was not until the seventies that Woodman completely abandoned her functional approach. Collaborating with important figures in the Pattern and Decoration movement, such as Joyce Kozloff and Cynthia Carlson, she began producing colorful, witty—and nonfunctional—vessels decorated with scenes from the Italian Renaissance or slathered with landscape clouds. Woodman's eccentric shapes and glazes are often appropriated from other cultures; her work in a sense functions as a very personal interpretation of art history. While the artist still produces human- and tabletop-size works, in recent years she has increased her scale, creating environmental installations for museums and galleries in the United States and abroad.
Since 1985, Woodman collaborated with Master printer Bud Shark to produce monotypes, woodcuts and lithographs with the same inventiveness and exuberance of her ceramic work. Taking up the challenge to work in two dimensions, Woodman paints, cuts, and collages her prints to create glorious pots sitting in interiors, just as she forms, cuts and assembles her ceramic pots. Woodman's painterly prints make reference to the rich history of ceramics around the world, from the "Oribe Tray" monotypes, to "Etruscan Pot", and "Iznik" and the pots she refers to as Japanese ladies in the woodcut/lithograph, "Ladies on the Balcony".
Woodman shared her time in New York City and outside Florence, Italy. A retrospective of her work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from April 25 – July 30, 2006. The exhibit covered her over fifty-year career working with clay and her focus on the vase form. Her work has also been shown around the world in exhibitions in France, Italy, Holland and Japan. Her work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum, The Smithsonian Institute, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and numerous others. For many years she taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder and was instrumental in the growth of its ceramics program one of the finest in the country.
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