Betty Woodman, who in 2006 became the first living female artist to be honoured with a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has died aged 87. Salon 94, Woodman's New York gallery, confirmed the news today, 3 January.
A student at Alfred University’s School for American Craftsmen, Woodman started out making dinner sets and decorative crockery, but in the 1950s she began to create ceramic sculptures that pushed the boundaries of the medium, and continued to do so over the next 70 years. Inspired by Ancient Roman and Etruscan vessels, as well as more recent Mediterranean styles (she shared her time between Tuscany and New York), Woodman’s work often defied categorisation.
As a result, fame came relatively late for the artist. “When I started out, ceramics was not even a material you made art out of. People might have liked what I was doing, responded to it, bought it, eaten off of it, but it had nothing to do with being an artist–it was about being a craftsman,” Woodman told the Guardian newspaper last year.
Her first solo exhibition in the UK was in 2015, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. A year later she was commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial to create a permanent work for the city–a 50ft-wide fountain mounted to the base of a Grade II listed art deco ventilation tower.
Born in Connecticut in 1930, Woodman married her husband, the painter George Woodman, in 1953. Their daughter was Francesca Woodman, the talented feminist photographer who killed herself in 1981 at the age of 22. Their son, Charles Woodman, is also an artist.