I had been circling the ice rink today in a daze when my son Jackson slipped on the ice just in front of me, looked up and said, “You know Dad, that happens to everyone.” It startled me from my thoughts around an email I got just before putting on my skates that Betty Woodman had passed away.
Three weeks ago I visited Betty in New York about a project I was working on. I had waited for her late fall return from Italy, and then got a note to come soon. We spent over two hours together on a cold mid-December afternoon. Her loft was abuzz with activity. Construction workers building a room within a room in George’s old studio for her helper. Her studio busy with active projects laid out all over. During our talk Betty had a funny volley with her assistant, Katerina trying to list all the shows her work was going to be featured in the coming year (it was well over a dozen!). After we talked Betty immediately went to work. I stood watching her for awhile, framing the picture in my mind I would not take. We had talked too much about the future to think this was the last time I would see her.
Betty Woodman was an incredible force of nature in the art world. Fighting for every inch. Working as if possessed. Championing women and clay and art and her place in the world. But I didn’t know that part of her. I did not know her as the “queen of ceramics” that she was.
I knew Betty as my college friend Francesca Woodman’s mom. After Francesca passed, I was clear with Betty that I wanted nothing more than the nature of my friendship with Francesca to remain true. It was a funny dance that allowed me to appreciate Francesca up close as a friend. My own Francesca pictures were of her running across her loft for a self portrait, posing with me in a mirror (I am wearing a dress, too!), or in Chinatown and Little Italy with Betty laughing and shopping.
In December Betty talked about the burden of sorting out her husband George’s work and life (he passed away last spring) - and wanting to honor him. We talked about her new work and all the upcoming shows. When she asked about my work, I talked for awhile about never really thinking of my own work as “art.” Her response felt more like a furled brow than any real advice. It was kind of unfair to expect anything else from someone who had spent their entire life creating and living art everyday. We talked about my pictures and stories with Francesca which have mostly remained stored in a box all these years, and she gave her blessing to finally share them as long as I was protective.
Betty was incredible, and with me generous and kind. I never transitioned over to seeing her without a reason to call. It was like that picture I never took when we were saying goodbye.