The Torso, Transformed By Clay

A trip to Greece inspired ceramic artist Marilyn Woods to begin sculpting the human form. “Eight years ago, my husband and I went to Greece on vacation, where I saw all these beautiful sculptures,” she says. “I’d never done figure work before, but after we came home, I started trying to make my first torso.”

Woods, who is originally from Chicago, divides the phases of her artistic career into two eras: Before

portfolio-2.jpgChildren and After Children. “In the 1970s, before I had children, I had a ceramics studio and exhibited my work all over,” she says. “After I had three children, I quit ceramics cold turkey and went into the computer business, which gave me a nice career and allowed me to get my kids through college.”

Three years before her inspirational trip to Greece, Woods had relocated to Oregon City, Ore., to be closer to family, and her husband built her a ceramics studio, which has a view of Mt. Hood. She took up the craft again, this time as the potter-in-chief behind Woods Hill Studio. “My work is a lot better now,” she says. “Since I don’t have the restriction of needing to make a living off of the art, as I had in the 1970s, I can play more with the clay and do new things.”

  One new technique for Woods is her work with clay monoprint tiles. She lays fabric over slabs of wet clay colored with artists’ pigments and runs a roller over the textile to transfer its pattern to the tile. To make the tattooed female torsos (left) that have become her trademark pieces, Woods imprints slabs of clay with different textures. “I use stamps, rocks, fabric—even kitchen implements—to create the different patterns,” she says.

For each figure, Woods works from the bottom up. It takes about six sessions to make each torso because she needs to wait for the initial slabs to dry out a bit so they can hold the weight of the next level of slabs. After she finishes a torso, she fires it and then glazes it with oxides that will allow the textures to show. “I’ve made all sorts of torsos,” she says. “Some are skinny. Some are hippy. Some are busty. I’ve had to think about things I’ve never thought of before such as the relationship of the hipbone to the navel.” The torsos, which are 22 inches tall and 12 inches wide, range from $350 to $450.

Contact ceramic artist Marilyn Woods via her website,