In Her Own Words
I have exposed myself to art so that my work has something beyond just the usual potter.
One of the most important ceramists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Betty Woodman was raised in Massachusetts and studied at the renowned School for American Craftsmen in Alfred, New York from 1948-1950. She had become enamored with ceramics after taking one course in high school, which convinced Woodman to make it her life’s work. After completing her studies at Alfred she took a job as a production potter and by 1951 had saved enough money to travel to Italy. It was this initial trip abroad that would forever alter her future.
Woodman made her way to Fiesole where she ended up in an unplanned apprenticeship in the studio of Giorgio Ferrero and Lionello Fallacara. The apprenticeship, and her wider travels in Italy, exposed her to both traditional majolica as well as new ways of approaching clay. She would return to Italy many times in the 1950s and 60s amidst other travels and found inspiration among the diverse cultures she encountered. Woodman returned to Florence in 1966 and just two years later she and her husband George, whom she had married in 1953, purchased a farmhouse in Antella, Italy where they would spend a significant amount of time working and raising their family. Her work from these decades is characterized by traditional forms such as pitchers, cups, and trays, with her signature exuberant lines, forms, and colors exhibiting inspiration from a vast array of cultures and time periods.
Though she had begun her career making predominantly functional objects, by the 1970s she abandoned this approach for a more experimental path. Woodman’s vessels expanded into multi-part, non-functional sculptures and installations. With deft hands and a keen mind, she synthesized sculpture, painting, and ceramics in an entirely unique and visually bold way, building a recognizable visual vocabulary all while provoking the viewer to ponder the interrelationship of gender, modernism, craft, architecture, and domesticity. Woodman observed no boundary between art and craft, explaining her creations as “a conduit of the memory of a painting, a landscape, architecture, or some other visual stimulus.”
In addition to her artistic pursuits, Woodman taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder from 1978-1998 where she later became Professor Emeritus. She was the recipient of numerous awards including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1980 and 1986, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at the Bellagio Study Center, Bellagio, Italy in 1995. Her work was the subject of numerous solo exhibitions worldwide during her lifetime, chief among them a 2006 retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York—the first time the museum dedicated a survey to a living female artist. Woodman received honorary doctorates from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2006, University of Colorado in 2007 and Rhode Island School of Design in 2009, as well as the Brooklyn Museum Modernism Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008, and completed major commissions at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for the State Department’s Art in Embassies program in 2008 and the U.S. Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri through the General Services Administration in 2012.
Following her death in 2018, Woodman left behind an extraordinary legacy as one of the most important voices in American postwar art and craft. Her work is included in more than fifty public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; and Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Lisbon.
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