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Grounded and in flight
CoverArtist: Mixed-media artist Patty Carmody Smith creates meaning in her human and bird sculptures
What would you like to see changed for women and girls?

"In creative work, and particularly figurative work, what comes to mind is this whole thing with body image and acceptance. You know, what women deal with-their relationship with their bodies. You can spend a lifetime working on this. If [women] just had some of those good feelings right from the beginning about accepting and loving their bodies-that's what I'd like to see."
-Patty Carmody Smith

by Norma Smith Olson

At times during her artistic career, Patty Carmody Smith has found her creative self wedded to one path. Her method is to explore a technique thoroughly for years and then evolve to another path.

In the 1970s, she was introduced to the crafts movement through fiber arts, and was encouraged by a high school teacher to pursue her craft at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. There, she studied with Walter Nottingham. "He was a bit of a guru [in the fiber arts world]. Very inspiring at that time," Smith said. She began a path of creating large, two-dimensional, fiber wall hangings. Later, she came to realize how influenced she was by her family's aesthetic for space and her architect father.

"I was very wedded to the idea that you do one thing and do it well," Smith said. She found that she was instinctually good at working with color and focused on creating wall hangings for eight years, but eventually "it wasn't enough for me anymore."

She began collecting art dolls in the early 2000s, and decided to give this art form a try for herself. She took an art dollmaking class and "I haven't made a wall hanging since," she said. "I was able to just let go of the rules and work instinctively."

So, she started her journey down this mixed-media path, working with the female body shape. She developed her own sculptural figurative style, working with Styrofoam to carve a form and then layering it with papier maché and clay. She adds color with acrylic paint and wax and sometimes mosaic.

Smith loves "process" and has a disciplined approach to her work. In 2007-08, she was a protégé in the mentor/protégé program at the Textile Center of Minnesota, working with Ann Hall Richards. There she developed a series of figures, including "New Growth," featured on the cover of the December Minnesota Women's Press.


She had been working on a series of gourd-shaped forms with natural colors, browns and dark reds. "Then it was getting to be February, and I said, 'I just feel like I want to make something that's blooming, that's light," she recalled. That led to the "New Growth" series of figurative sculptures.

"Human figures are one of my favorite subjects," Smith said. "I trust my instincts. Themes reveal themselves to me while I am working. Like growth in myself-there's all kinds of metaphor for it."

On a trip to Yellowstone, Smith found a new inspiration for her mixed-media sculptures-ravens and crows. Her figurative path has evolved in a new direction with bird shapes. The black birds are "like a blank slate. There is an individualism with each piece, they have their own kind of color and personality," she said of the decorative birds.

"Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots," Smith said, as she reflected on her own path, from fiber arts and sculptural wall hangings to figurative sculptures and female forms to her focus now on mixed media with bird images and mosaics. One thing leads to another.

"It just felt right. And I think that it doesn't really matter to understand it, but if I have an urge to do something or if it feels right, I'll just go ahead and not worry about why."

FFI: www.carmodyart.com

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Article comment by: Bruce Camp

It's always a treat when we feature one of Patty's fabulous workshops at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts - Patty's students LOVE her.

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