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Betty Woodman in 2012 working in her Italian studio. Photo: Stefano Porcinai.

Betty Woodman (1930–2018)

Artist Betty Woodman, a sculptor known for ceramic works that are playful yet rigorous combinations of, among other things, Etruscan sculpture, Egyptian art, Sèvres porcelain, and Henri Matisse, has died.

Woodman was born in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1930. She described her first encounter with clay in a high school art class, according to an interview with Priscilla Frank in the Huffington Post, as “sort of like magic . . . We were given some clay and using our hands we could just make it into a shape. The first thing I ever made was a pitcher. As far as I was concerned that was what I wanted to do. It fell into my hands.” She studied pottery at Alfred University’s School for American Craftsmen, graduating in 1950. In 1952 Woodman traveled to Italy, where traditional forms of earthenware, such as majolica, made a deep impression upon her. Since then, she had spent a portion of every year living there with her husband, the artist George Woodman, who died last March. (The Woodmans are a famous artist family: Their daughter, the late Francesca Woodman, was a photographer; their son, Charles Woodman, who is still living, is an electronic artist. A documentary about the clan, The Woodmans, was released in 2010.)

Betty Woodman has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe, including “Florentine Interiors” (2017) at Galerie Hubert Winter in Vienna; “Theatre of the Domestic” (2016) at the ICA in London; “Interior Views” (2014) at Galerie Francesca Pia in Zurich; and “Of Botticelli” (2013) at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi in Berlin. Her last New York solo exhibition was in 2016 at Salon 94—the gallery represents her—and was titled “Breakfast At The Seashore Lunch In Antella.” “The Art of Betty Woodman,” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006, was the artist’s first retrospective in the US.

“Unfussy but remarkably erudite, her pottery comfortably foregrounds ceramics’ conventions and place within (or outside of) this erstwhile art-historical canon,” said Suzanne Hudson of Woodman’s show at LA’s David Kordansky Gallery for the April 2015 issue of Artforum. “The rigor of Woodman’s engagement with the medium was here belied by the visceral convolutions of color and runny streaks of paint that turn the surface of her vessels into canvaslike grounds.”

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