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The Columbus Dispatch : Review of "Impossible Optimism by Nancy Gilson


Sculptor Julie Woodrow aims for joy while hinting at issues

By Nancy Gilson, For The Columbus Dispatch

Apr 2, 2017

Playful rabbits, sardonic donkeys, tribal figures, contemplative women and carnival hustlers are just a few of the characters populating Julie Woodrow’s hand-carved ceramic works.

About 40 pieces by the central Ohio artist are on view in the exhibit “Impossible Optimism” at Sherrie Gallerie in the Short North.

Woodrow, who teaches ceramics at Worthington Kilbourne High School, often finds inspiration in the woodland creatures she sees at her rural home near Marysville. Her sculptures are appealing and, indeed, seem optimistic.

Yet, when she’s at work in her studio, Woodland said, she listens to national news and finds the current political climate bewildering and troubling. In spite of that, she said she wanted to keep her exhibit “as upbeat as possible.”

“I hope to bring some joy with my work but still confront some issues very subtly,” she said.

Woodrow is an artist with no shortage of ideas. Her clay figures — some whimsical, some serious — are vessels for recurring characters and stories. Many of her sculptures incorporate secret doorways and hidden passages.

In “Vestige,” a soulful-looking woman gazes down. On the top of her head is a subtle landscape of archaeological ruins. A passageway with stairs and arches winds around her shoulders.

The wall sculpture “Persistence” revisits the 1970s with its bead-curtain format and texture recalling flocked wallpaper. From each of six pink human heads hang large, hand-carved ceramic beads of varying shapes and in shades of pink, red and mauve. Woodrow covered each shape with adhesive paint and then blew on flocking, creating the fuzzy texture.

Other wall sculptures include carnival characters such as “Fortune Teller” and “Skee Ball” (who wears the game on his head) and a group of donkey heads. (Woodrow, who loves donkeys, says she doesn’t have one but hopes to soon.)

Rabbits holding hands, human hands, donkeys and village houses wind around the bulbous-shaped vase “Hoping for a Proper Goodbye.”

“Abundance,” a large sculpture (18.5-by-12-by-11 inches) of a serene rabbit at rest, is featured atop a pedestal in the middle of the gallery. Growing out of the rabbit’s head is a clump of dandelions, while on his body, Woodrow has carved the design of dandelion fluff blowing in the wind. A walkway, disguised as the animal’s spine, runs down his back.

The exhibit — which includes a ceramic fountain and a number of cups and vases — is installed so that viewers can walk around and inspect all sides of these detailed pieces.

Woodrow is a Columbus native who studied at Ohio State University and the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Her work — curious and sometimes puzzling — is often humorous but never silly. She seems to view the world as complicated and problematic but ultimately worthwhile, something encapsulated in her sculpture of a girl’s upside-down head attached to two floating balloons. The piece is titled “Floating is Better than Sinking.”