Iconic Translations: The Clay and Mixed-media Sculptures of Rebecca Boatman

Interview by Robin Gary

Texas Clay Arts Association’s featured artist for November/December is Dallas based sculptor, Rebecca Boatman, who has been teaching and working in sculpture and clay for over 30 years. Her busy decades encompassed raising a family, opening and running a private art school and teaching ceramics, sculpture, 3-D design and art appreciation at North Lake College in Irving and Collin College in Frisco. She is a world traveler, loves to write and spend time with family. We caught up with each other via email stitching time together between each other’s travels at the end of October.
Your work has been primarily figurative mixed media with inspiration from African nkisis, Cycladic figures and reliquaries along with your own experiences. What path brought you to base your sculptures on these iconic cultural figures? 

We are influenced by those personal experiences and two major influences sent me in the direction of my current works.  My first experience was a result of an invitational show held at North Lake College.  I was paired with clay artist Diana Marquis to complete a collaborative sculptural installation.  We came up with the idea of creating small clay figures and smoke firing them.  We installed them in an old refrigerator and called it "Milk and Eggs".  My son was in engineering at A&M and he helped with the mechanics...the refrigerator slowly opened and closed...revealing our figures.  We also studied ancient fertility symbols and created tiles.  I was hooked.  Diana just came to my studio for my studio tour this year.  We talked about the impact working together had on me.   In 1999 I started my world travels; I am lucky to have a husband that shares my interests in art and history.  While visiting Notre Dame in Paris I entered the side chapel  and saw my first reliquary. It was figurative....Mary....with rays of silver projecting from her.  It immediately brought to mind the nails from the Nkisi that I loved at the museums.  Travels to Greece put me face-to-face with the clay and stone fertility figures.  I had been making boxes called personal squares with very small figures. Over time the boxes became smaller and went away and the figures became larger.  Now I am revisiting primitive firing techniques and boxes as reliquaries. I received a study grant while teaching at Collin to research relics and reliquaries across cultures.  I continue to study and subscribe to Art News, Ceramics Monthly, Sculpture, Smithsonian, and National Geographic.  We continue to travel; we will be in Nepal and I will study the Buddhist stupas.

As you visualize a sculpture before creating it, are there aspects of usage or myth from these cultural inspirations that drive your process, materials, surfaces, etc.? 

 I have always been a collector and I love to pick up odd bits of metals from the streets....also the objects that are placed inside each form are from my collections.  I take photos of textures and patterns.  My studio is very full of little pieces......maybe I will include a photo after a "work session".  It gets very cluttered.

New work is similarly focused but yet different, diverging to new materials and forms. I believe that you retired recently (is that accurate?). How has retirement altered your work, process, time-management, aspirations?

This is a great question....no matter how much you plan and think you have it all figured out....it just does not happen that way.   I really missed teaching art...REALLY.  Teaching feeds my creativity.  I love how students can make you think.  I have had so many commitments that I did not get in my studio as much as I hoped for the first 3 months of retirement.  I have now made it my priority.....and I do not consider myself retired anymore.  I am now an artist who works one day a week teaching ceramics at the Denton Senior Citizen Center.  I work about 3 days a week in my studio.  I am still a wife and also a caregiver for my mom who is 94. Time is still very precious.  One of my problems is promoting my work and the desk work that goes with it.  I guess that will have to be my next priority.  Artists wear lots of hats....

If you were just starting in art today, what would your current self advise your early career self?

Find a mentor......get out and network with artists a lot.  Keep open.
I love the new pieces based on commercial bottle shapes. Mrs. Butterworth is reborn as a nkisis. The Joy bottle will be next. How do you plan your pieces?  Sketches,  thumbnails, 3d miniatures, color concepts?  What drives the scale of these works and your newer reliquary boxes? As you expand to these new forms, are the stories behind the sculptures changing?

I collect and save those objects, I read and clip photos, I read and clip articles.....I keep revisiting and analyzing.  I scribble and draw and write myself notes-more clutter in the studio.  It's those past experiences...why do I have the glass Mrs. Butterworth, the old vanilla bottle, the shabuti replica from Egypt?  My changes come as an epiphany. It is an evolution.

You have taught art and art appreciation for years. Describe how you want to see the students of today's tech-heavy world use this information in their lives, whether it be daily awareness of art in life, connection with past, inspiration for future creative endeavors...

I always said that I was a cheerleader for art.  I still feel that way.  Most of my students will not be artists....well I guess I have to take that back.  I have 4 students who are  art teachers..and many more who have selected art fields....I even had some Art Appreciation students change their majors...but I have a lot more from my over THIRTY years of teaching that send me reminders of how they were impacted in my classes.  I taught Shannon Sanderford - reigning Miss Texas- and she told my husband Ken last week that she still has most of her works.  She told him that I was one of her favorite teachers.  Another past student who lives in DC and is making it blogging wrote me a note and again referred to the importance of my class in her life today.   Art makes you think.  We all touch and see.  We all make.  This does not change - materials and process may change.   I approach learning art that way.   How different is a mother 30,000 years ago from a mother today?  What does that prehistoric bowl tell you?  Why do we make art?  I showed a photo of a shard of pottery from the cave region of southern France in my class.  I told my students that any artist that took the time to make patterns in the clay with their fingers did a great job cooking.  That was a casserole....it did not have to be decorated but it was.  The Smithsonian came out a few years ago with new research that prehistoric cooks incorporated mustard seeds in their recipes....I was not surprised.
I wanted to enrich students' perceptions of the world we all live in.  I made everyone create works even in Art Appreciation.  Everyone can draw; everyone is an artist.

You have won awards over the years, including this last show with Texas Sculpture Association, called Illuminations at JM Gallery in Dallas. Your work is featured in many collections around the U.S.  How do you market your work in general?

Over the years I have tried it all, I have stopped doing outdoor shows....weather!  I am a member in Texas Clay Artists, NCECA, Texas Sculpture Association and International Sculpture Association.  This is a great opportunity for networking.  I still occasionally enter a juried competition but now I am asked to show so I do invitationals mainly.  That goes back to networking.  I make it a point to be professional - it is very important;  be responsible, meet deadlines, do the best with your craftsmanship, have good photos, pack pieces with care.  Being an artist is a package.  Again...I need to do more with the internet....next year.


Rebecca's Artwork | Rebecca's TCAA Page | Rebecca's website

Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

Images in header (from left): Annie Foster, Karmien Bowman, Mimi Bardagjy

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