I took this photo of a Betty Woodman vessel from the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art a few years ago.


After viewing a recent exhibition,

The Four Woodmans

, at Nina Freudenheim Gallery in Buffalo, I wanted to know more about the curious family. After watching a documentary called

The Woodmans,

I wrote this piece…

The master potter said
If you have beautiful things to use,
it changes the kind of person you are.

Betty Woodman’s ceramics
inspired me
back in the 1970s
when I was learning
to turn lumps of clay into vessels.

She was married to George,
an abstract painter.
They raised their two children
in an artful world.
Early on,
they recognized the talents
of their precocious youngest child
when she picked up her first camera
and took off…
a fully-formed creator.

By the early 1980s,
I had traded clay
for pictures and paint.
As I floundered about
on the lower east side of New York
I began to see
that the life of an artist is fraught
with psychic risk.

Betty’s daughter lived just blocks away.
She was a few years younger,
but already a prolific photographer.
While the rest of us searched and discovered,
she had arrived at the heart of her work.
Haunting and mysterious portraits…
some nude–others draped
in flimsy dresses,
all floaty and disappearing
into dreamlike atmospheres.

At 22, Francesca Woodman’s work
embodied the spirit
of a young woman’s
creative life.
Ambitious and full of desire…
for romance and recognition
that did not come fast enough.

In 1981, she left behind her beautiful pictures
and a mountain of grief
when she leapt
from a window
to the other side.

The Woodmans were stunned,
but they had each other.
They had their son
and a strong work ethic…
enough to carry on.

George put aside painting
and read all 1200 Emily Dickinson poems.
Then he picked up a camera.
etty began crafting wall reliefs
in cheerful color and pattern.
Art healed the Woodmans
and they thrived
as this new work emerged.

the memory of Francesca
continues to burn bright
like a rock star
or movie icon.

A couple years ago
I dreamed that I was gathering
my belongings
to escape from a smoke-filled room
when I noticed
that pages of usernames and passwords
had been cut out from a notebook
by my laptop.

I looked out the window
and saw
the building across the street in flames.
A woman in a white nightgown
flung herself from an upper window
and drifted down to the pavement below…
a dream image in black and white
like a Francesca Woodman photograph.
No password required.

All art is about remembering and memory,
explains Betty Woodman.

She spent a year creating a masterpiece
for the American Embassy in Bejing
to celebrate the Olympics.

83 now,
Betty embodies lastingness
through memory and art.

Once again,
I am inspired.

April 2013

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