New York Times April 7, 1985

02 1981Clay Container



THE word ”sculptural” is being used in craft circles as an umbrella term for almost anything that is neither flat nor symmetrically round.

It might refer to a bent earring or a table with curving legs. Often, it is used as an alternative to ”functional”; occasionally, it seems to be an attempt to find merit in pots that do not hold water any way that you look at them.

It restores one’s sense of values to find a body of work in a craft-related material that is, without question, not only ”sculptural,” but also ”sculpture.”

Filling that description are works in clay by Phyllis Baker Hammond of Briarcliff, N.Y., that are being exhibited at the Noyes Musuem here through May 19.

Several years ago, Miss Hammond’s work was seen frequently in craft exhibitions in the New York metropolitan area. In the late 1970’s, her distinctive signature was a cylinder two or three feet tall with a window-like opening that revealed a portion of a face within it.

Now, using the architectural column, rather than the vessel, as a reference, Miss Hammond has transformed her original imagery by turning it outward and compounding it. The resulting works combine a contemporary attitude toward clay with a neo-classical spirit.

Dominant among Miss Hammond’s 10 pieces are several seven-foot monoliths built of stoneware slabs with ragged edges set on the vertical. The clay itself, sparsely glazed or dusted with a powdery substance, retains the look of its earthen origins. The cracks and fissures formed naturally during the construction and firing emphasize that character.

Around the tops, serving as the capitals on pillars, a variety of enigmatic faces appear to emerge and recede.

The artist’s stated intention is to convey the impression of excavated structures. In doing so successfully, she also reminds the viewer that clay has been viewed sometimes as a metaphor for the human body.

These works are stately, haunting presences that seem startlingly alive. They look completely at home on the landing of the museum’s wide corridor and in the court outside the window walls.

Perhaps their compelling quality lies in their multiple levels of ambiguity. The faces, male and female, appear to have been molded from both classical statues and actual people. They express serenity while seeming to exist in the tumult of creation. They seem timeless and also to be witnessing the passage of time.

In a series of wall pieces, the artist has extended her explorations into the format of relief.

One work that stands apart – entitled ”Gateway” and dated 1980 – seems more primitive than classical. Strangely, its lintel at the top is high enough to walk beneath, but the space between the posts is too narrow to enter.

Considering the evolution of Miss Hammond’s work, it is tempting to see in this piece a mark of personal transition, a passage of birth to a new dimension of artistic growth.

The Noyes Museum is on Lily Lake Road in this Atlantic County community and is accessible from Exit 48 of the Garden State Parkway. Hours are 11 A.M. to 4 P.M., Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 4 P.M. on Sundays. Information: (609) 652- 8848.

Miss Hammond also is exhibiting a different set of works at the Pindar Gallery, 127 Greene Street, New York, through April 27.