The QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York

A Journey in Stone and Wood by Gladys Thompson Roth
A Journey in Stone and Wood
Gladys Thompson Roth
December 2 - February 28, 2011
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My work is inspired by human forms and relationships. Direct carving in stone and wood convey the vitality of my subjects. The materials become alive and elicit the great variety in which they assert their character. Over 35 years ago I joined a class in clay modeling in a community in Westchester called Lake Mohegan. We used live models who were friends and neighbors, the process of building with clay produced two heads, “Allan” and “Carol” (1985).

In 1989, I met Aline Geist who studied with Alfred Van Loen. Aline introduced me to direct carving. Her background in music and dance transmitted the concept of movement and rhythm to sculpture. One of the first pieces I carved was “Unfurled” (1988) from a piece of coca – bola wood from Brazil. It was so “alive” and I was so allergic to it that I sneezed my way through the entire piece.

With Aline I concentrated on expressing feelings. I exhibited a piece in a show called “Caring” (1987). It is an abstract alabaster piece depicting two half-circles entwined. I gave it to a friend who was chronically ill. Since I have difficulty parting with my work, I had it cast in bronze. When my friend died, the family returned the original piece and I now own both.

Three other teachers influenced my work: Elsie Nydorf, Raymond Rocklin and Lissy Dennett. I continued to explore the use and care of tools as well as learning to appreciate the various woods and stones. Lissy Dennett particularly emphasized polishing stones, helping me develop many techniques. There were times I left a piece unpolished, believing the rough texture suited the subject and stone better. However, using the same stone for “Shona” (2002) I chose to give it a high shine producing an effect like ebony. It was inspired by the work of the African tribe, Shona. In 2008, it won “Best in Show’ award in an artist’s network exhibition.

Stones like alabaster, marble, African wonderstone, onyx, soapstone and limestone are all part of my repertoire. I used Carrara marble to create a piece called “Homage to Arp” the stone is pure white and called for an abstract form. Because marble is so hard, it is difficult to carve by hand. I never did another marble piece. Instead, I used alabaster of all kinds. For the most part I prefer stones with little or no color or grain so that they don’t detract from the design. “Flowerbird” (1991) is one such piece. In that piece I carved the petals (wings) as thin as I could without breaking through so that they are almost transparent. “Lady with Hair” (1986 is another pure white piece.

Woods like coca-bola, walnut, Honduras mahogany, lignum vitae, and tulipwood each have different textures and density. Lignum vitae is the most challenging because it is basically very hard and has two shades of wood (beige and brown) inherent in the grain. Working around these gradations provided the inspiration for “Tropical Birds” (2001) and “My mother, Myself” (2007).

I acquired some discarded wood from the Steinway Piano Workshop (walnut, mahogany). Other pieces come from local trees (tulip, maple) cut down to make room for new houses.

Finding a form within a block of stone or a piece of wood is an adventure. Materials react differently to the tools. The sounds of stone responding to a chisel are part of the music and rhythm of carving. Wood is more temperamental than stone. It splinters when carved against the grain. Working with Lignum vitae is still another experience. Parts of it are so dense and hard that it is used for ships and mallets.

The flaws in some woods like splits and knots were included and incorporated into the design of “Young Girl” (Walnut, 2002) and “Tangled Vines” (Tulipwood, 2003). “Tangled Vines” was inspired by a collection of poems about mothers and daughters. I used a piece of tulipwood from a tree felled in my garden.

Onyx cracks easily and one large piece turned into two pieces when it broke in half “Polar Birds” (Onyx, 1996). This is the only piece that has sharp, angular lines, I prefer soft, round forms.

My bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree in Special Education from New York University deepened my connection to women and children as well as the roles of teacher, wife, mother, and daughter which influenced my choice of subjects.

For the last thirty years, I have been involved in the Women’s Movement as a Director of Womanspace, a women-centered organization. It has informed my work by focusing on the beauty and strengths of womankind: “Free to Be Me” (1992), “Bonding” (1990), “Pregnant Woman” (1994), “A Women’s Back” (2005), “Hatshepsut” (1995), and “Woman” (1999).

Hatshepsut was created after a trip to Egypt where I was so impressed with the woman/Pharaoh who did so much to improve the lives of her people by maintain peace and creating beautiful temples. She reigned from 1476 - 1468 BC and managed to rule by relegating her husband and regent to the background.

“Fagy” (1990), a mahogany piece, was completed after my friend Fagy died. It is symbolic of her young naïve approach to life. The two fat dancers (alabaster, 2006) were inspired by Botero, whose satiric, humorous works I admire.