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Carpenter’s tools

I met Syd Carpenter at Sande Webster Gallery last Saturday for an interview. It was a great chance for me to catch up with the diminutive clay sculptor whom I hadn’t seen since I met with her and New Orleans-based ceramic artist MaPo Kinnord-Payton at Swarthmore in 2003. I wrote a story for PW about Kinnord-Payton and a project she is involved with in Ghana. I’ll chase down that link later. Here I want to run some pictures and encourage you to get out and see the show, which is up to April 29.

(top image is “Three seasons of Interest” a funky-looking tool with outcroppings of blood cells, brain and head. The title is a gardener’s term referring to a plant’s gift giving over the course of three seasons. Note the table which Carpenter had specially made by Tom Neely. No pedestals for the tools.)


A show of Carpenter’s new works is always an event. The artist is always thinking her way to new ideas and pushing her work in new directions. The surprise in this show is the two bodies of work, — tool pieces and other works with sexy, animal-like shapes — which grew simultaneously, and which seem to complement each other like hand and glove (or hand and tool). Libby wrote about the show in her post. (image above is “Antidote.” Carpenter’s patinas are always of interest. Here she’s rubbed graphite on the piece. There are always medical references in Carpenter’s works. Mostly she’s walking the line between homeopathic and Western medicine.)

Everything is an implement here. Medical implement; plant implement; human implement. Carpenter, who is very tiny, works without an assistant. She said the work is never bigger than her — that is one frame of reference on scale. She has a studio with a kiln and fires the work, sometimes three or four times before it’s “right.” Sometimes she couples this and that to make a work, sawing the clay and glueing it together. She paints the surface if she feels it’s warranted. This body of work had less paint and more pure clay glaze finishes, she said.
The show represents less than a year’s worth of work. Carpenter has been on sabbatical from Swarthmore this year and the work poured out of her after she spent a month in Ghana with MaPo working in a remote village helping construct housing that had been washed away. They got a master kiln builder to come and build a kiln in the village. Apparently it was an intense experience.
Carpenter told me she’s having a solo exhibit at Delaware Center for Contemporary Art in 2006. Her husband, Steve Donegan, had a show there a while back and she was impressed with the space. (image is “Self-Pollinator”)
Of the organic animal/plant forms that sit on the specially-made tables Carpenter said the work came out of looking at leaves and how they twist and turn and rest on their points and stems like dancers balancing in the most delicate and refined ways. But when she started working, her brain and hand transformed the leaf forms into something more animal-like and well that’s part of the process too, where your mind and where the materials take you. (image is one of the leaf pieces in a photo I took — sorry I don’t know precisely which one.)