Betty Woodman's functional bronze sculptures: From the Archives...

All images related to Betty Woodman’s “Bronze Bench #3,” 2003. 57 x 62 x 16 in. Bronze, patina. From L to R: clay models for bronze benches outside Betty’s studio in Antella, Italy / Benches in progress at the Fonderia with Betty’s full-scale drawing / Applying the patina according to Betty’s drawing / The finished bench arrives at Betty’s studio in Antella / Installation view in the courtyard of the Palazzo Pitti, Museo delle Porcellane, Florence, Italy, 2010 / Installation view, “Betty Woodman: In the Garden,” Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, New Jersey, 2016 / Betty outside of her studio in Antella.

On occasion, Betty Woodman translated her abiding interest in the subject of function into materials other than clay, always pushing the possibilities of a particular medium. In 1999, she began an ongoing collaboration with Fonderia Artistica Belfiore in Pietrasanta, Italy, an idea which came from a conversation with her longtime gallerist, Max Protetch and was in part inspired by fellow gallery artist Scott Burton’s sculptural furniture, as well as the formal Italian gardens she had spent decades exploring.

She and Mario Belfiore devised a way of enlarging and adapting her clay models into full-scale, functional bronze sculptures. Woodman would make clay forms in her studio, much in the way that she made the flat façades of her increasingly complex ceramic sculptures. Belfiore and his team would then sand cast those forms and realize them in bronze, welding together each individual component. Woodman would make a full-scale drawing for each bench, using a palette of colors that could be translated into bronze patinas. Her drawings were then carefully applied to the bench by a team of artisans at the foundry first in chalk and then in rich patinated colors. In all, her bronze works include seven different benches, a table, balustrade relief vases, and fountains of varying sizes, including a commission permanently installed in Liverpool, England.

“Years ago, at Herculaneum, I saw a group of amphorae jars leaning casually on each other in the sun. The big bronze bench mimics this gesture and another memory of Etruscan tombs with reclining figures on their lids. The smaller ones seemed to derive from Roman furniture. It is an amphora resting on one elbow or hand and leaning on a Roman crater form…History has often shifted objects from an intended functional use to an artistic realm, and this is a game I play in the present,” Woodman remarked, reflecting on the overlapping functional and sculptural nature of her bronze benches.

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