Master silversmith Julia Woodman teaches us it’s never too late to be extraordinary.
Julia Woodman with her piece “Computer Aided Pine Cone” in the Penland iron studio
Recently celebrating her 90th birthday, Julia continues to push the limits of metalsmithing, a craft she took up in her fifties. Julia will receive the Lucy Morgan Award at the 38th Annual Penland Benefit Auction.
Computer Aided Pine Cone, 2017
38 x 17 x 17 inches
Donated to the 38th annual Penland Benefit Auction
Julia Woodman is a smith: a person skilled in making things. In her case, things made of silver and steel. She is also one of Penland’s best friends.
Her remarkable career in craft began at a time of life when many folks are starting to slow down. She completed an MFA in metals at Georgia State University when she was 62, and then, in 1998 (the year she started drawing Social Security) she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Finland where she became the first American to receive a Master Silversmith diploma.
Julia Woodman, Kenny Pieper, 2014
Gong Cocktail Service and Black Reticello Martini Goblets
Sterling silver, purpleheart wood, shakudo, fine silver, blown glass
Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Since receiving her Master Silversmith diploma, Julia has made commissioned pieces, won awards, and taught workshops. Her work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Dallas Museum of Art, and the High Museum of Art (Atlanta). A major piece commissioned for the 2014 Penland auction (pictured above) became part of the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Fish slice, 1992
Silver, gold plate, citrine
12⅘ inches inches long
Collection of Victoria and Albert Museum
Juila’s connection to Penland began in 1986 when she started taking metals workshops every year to supplement her university studies. After her MFA was complete, she switched from metals workshops to iron workshops, and, she says, “I became known as the Old Lady of the Iron Studio.” She continued taking classes in the iron studio well into her 80s. In the last few years she’s been exploring lighter materials such as books and paper. Her workshop total now stands at 28.
Julia working with a student in the Penland metals studio in 2010
Julia started volunteering for the auction in 1997 and has continued to do so up to the present. For many of those years she was accompanied by her lovely husband, Richard Woodman, who passed away in 2012. Julia has taught silversmithing at Penland six times, most recently in 2022. She has supported the school through contributions and by regularly donating her work to the auction. And Penland has a scholarship named in her honor that was endowed by Julia Wilson and other friends.
Woven Majesty Teapot, 1991
Sterling silver, padauk, copper, and silver
13 1/2 x 8 x 5 1/4 inches
Collection of High Museum
When asked why she is so devoted to Penland, Julia immediately said,
Because it’s so incredible to go there. At Penland I learned how to not be afraid of making a mistake. And that was my goal as a teacher: to teach students to stop being afraid of mistakes. Because when you can do that, then you can really make art.
Julia will be presented with the first Lucy Morgan Award in honor of her extraordinary relationship with the school at the 38th Annual Penland Benefit Auction.
Bubbles Champagne Cocktail Ladle #2, 2021
Sterling silver, glass bread by Barbara Becker Simon
15 x 3¾ x 2¾ inches
Donated to the 36th Annual Penland Benefit Auction
The making of the “Computer Aided Pine Cone”
This piece was created at Penland in 2017 during a workshop with Vivian Beer. Julia told us:
Vivian had the manufacturer of the computer aided plasma cutter send the cutter to Penland. The twenty-two parts were cut out in less than forty five minutes. I was thrilled at being able to see my itty bitty tesserae being transformed so big. I took each piece to the 50 ton hydraulic press in the iron studio to round them into shape, then stacked them accordingly. They can be re-stacked in two different ways. I’d be happy to show you.
Find the Computer Aided Pine Cone at the 38th Annual Penland Benefit Auction. Get your tickets HERE!