How did Boca Museum get one of last works by this famous artist?

2:11 p.m Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 Community
“A Single Joy of Song” is a massive ceramic sculpture by Betty Woodman, now on display at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Submitted.

Boca Raton Museum of Art assistant curator Lanya Snyder didn’t know what to expect when she visited sculptor and ceramicist Betty Woodman in her Chelsea studio in Manhattan last spring.

Artists, after all, can be aloof.

And Woodman’s career had been a formidable one. She was a feminist force in the once-macho world of ceramics, becoming the first living woman artist to have a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She blended painting and sculpture into an inventive hybrid that helped ceramics become accepted as fine art.

So Snyder was delighted to discover the artist was a gracious, welcoming host. And was saddened when she died January 2 at age 87.

“I can’t stress enough what a warm, hospitable, very personable person she was,” said Snyder, who visited Woodman to see how a piece commissioned for the current Boca Museum ceramics show was coming along. “She was quiet, maybe because she had just lost her husband, but she spent the entire morning and part of the afternoon with me. She made us tea. I found a personal connection to her that is not always the case.”

Woodman’s work, called “A Single Joy of Song,” is a huge, two-dimensional piece that spreads exuberantly across a wall in the museum. Woodman’s topic has long been the vase in various historic mutations.

In her piece for the Boca Museum, the vessels don’t hold something in. Instead, two vases jauntily spew forth bits and pieces of colored and uncolored clay shapes, reminiscent of Matisse’s paper cutouts. The pieces spread out over the wall in a work that is 10 feet tall by 23 feet long. The vase is set in a domestic scene that seems to be a house, whose walls are decorated to look like wallpaper.

Although Woodman was mourning the loss of her husband of 64 years, George, an artist and photographer, the effect of “Single Joy” is energetically joyous, even a trifle zany.

“It’s extraordinary that she created this massive wall piece specifically for our show,” said Snyder. “She didn’t have to say yes, we could have borrowed a work, but she very much wanted to keep working, even after the death of her husband.”

Woodman’s work is part of a major ceramics exhibit at the museum dedicated to George Ohr, known as the “mad potter of Biloxi” for his delicate but contorted vases and other vessels.