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Ellen Woodbury Exhibition in Vail through February 1st January 20 2015, 0 Comments

Name a Disney movie between 1985 and 2005 and chances are Ellen Woodbury worked on it. Here are a few: Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and The Beauty and the Beast. Having been born in the early 1980’s myself; Woodbury spent her career bringing the stories that shaped my childhood to life. As a Directing Animator at the company that brought us The Magic Kingdom, Mickey Mouse and more, Woodbury’s career is marked with highlights and prestige. This weekend, she is meeting collectors while showing a collection of her sculpture at the Art on a Whim gallery in Vail Village.

Woodbury broke down barriers with her work on The Lion King, becoming the first female Supervising Character Animator in the long and storied history of Disney. Her character, Zazu, is the little hornbill (a tropical bird) in the film. Woodbury was known among the animation industry as one of the most disciplined and accomplished individuals in the field. Film producer Don Hahn said he has, “never seen anybody get into a character as much as Woodbury would.” For this, and many other significant   achievements, Woodbury is regarded as one of the 50 Most Influential Disney Animators. Today, she spends her time in Loveland, Colorado creating classic and contemporary stone sculptures from precious stones found throughout the world.

Woodbury turned to stone sculpting in 2005, having resigned from her position at Disney in order to pursue a career as an independent artist. Long before, her path in education took her to the film program at Syracuse University, which she credits for teaching her how to analyze and for opening her mind. In 1982 Woodbury enrolled at The California Institute of the Arts. Here, she became the prized pupil of master animator and artist Jules Engel. With her background in animation well established at this point, Engel simply pushed Woodbury to another level. She says, “He was just so charming. There was something about him right from the start. He showed me the work and it really blew me away! Where my mind was stretched, Jules filled it up with all these different ways of animating, all these different mediums and ideas.”

According to Engel, “A mentor is someone who may be trained in academia, but who is more concerned with the 'big' picture of highly personal, cutting-edge experimentation and individual thinking about the arts.” The combination of Engel’s influence and Disney’s wondrous and innocent characters are ever present in each of Woodbury’s one-of-a-kind sculptures. She is an artist who is not afraid to strike out on her own, drawing upon her extensive training while spending hundreds of hours painstakingly creating each unique sculpture.

On her piece depicting two white-tailed ptarmigans, titled “Squash and Stretch,” Woodbury says; “Squash and stretch is one of the most important ingredients in traditional Disney animation. It is defined as change in shape with no change in volume, as illustrated by the poses of these ptarmigans. The principle of squash and stretch gives character animation life, weight and flexibility and makes Disney animation fun to watch and create.” Soft curves, crisp edges and changes in shape highlight the piece. The sculpture is created from Sivec Marble, which was quarried in Greece. It is the same stone used in ancient Greek temples, plazas and statues. The marble is pristine, with medium sized crystals resembling the snow the famed ptarmigans are so adept at blending into.

Amongst a collection of ten original pieces, Woodbury’s show stopper is titled “Phoenix Rising.” The sculpture is inspired by hope and new beginnings. The piece is made from Yule Marble, which was quarried not from here in Marble, Colorado. From the base to the tip of the Phoenix’ taller wing the piece measures 30” high. Light plays off of the smooth sculpted surface, as the piece is designed by using a combination of curved and faceted lines. Crystals found within the ancient stone sparkle like snowflakes when they catch the light. The piece held up to 623 hours of rigorous sculpting while being formed thanks to the strong bedding plane that the stone Woodbury chose was discovered in. Both tips of the bird’s wings delicately curve outwards, giving the piece the feeling of flight and reaching for the next step in life. Woodbury says, “Every bit of careful effort you put into your sculpting returns to you ten times over in successful forms, pristine color, subtle veining and dazzling snowflake crystal. This bird rises from the embers of one art form (animation) to inspire and inform another.”

Woodbury’s current show at the Art on a Whim gallery represents well over a year’s worth of work. Given her preferred medium of stone, each piece is truly unique and is not created in editions. Woodbury will be wet-sanding a new piece while talking about her extensive background and incredible techniques in the gallery throughout the weekend. A master of animation and a master sculptor, Woodbury’s work is a sight to see.


Listen Hard, Walk Softly. A Work in Bronze by Ellen Woodbury July 22 2014, 0 Comments

Written by Ellen Woodbury, Stone Sculptor.

I have been carving stone for 8 years.  It has happened during those years that I am struck with an idea for a sculpture that cannot be safely sculpted in stone because the possibility of breakage is too high.  Until now, I have simply abandoned those ideas and moved on.  However, the inspiration for “Listen Hard, Walk Softly” was too powerful for me to ignore.

Last year I read a book entitled What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young.  This little book is a fascinating manual for understanding what birds are communicating to one another and to other inhabitants of the forest through their songs and actions.  I discovered in my reading that I am what Young calls a “bird plow.”  I am unable to stifle my exuberance when out hiking and, consequently, disturb all the birds in the area.  The birds sing alarm calls to other forest dwellers, and all the wildlife is gone 5 minutes before I arrive at any given location.  My husband, Brian, has suggested often that I be quiet and subdued.  I try, but never really succeed in containing my joy at being out in Nature.  My behavior has a name.  This is an embarrassment, a revelation, and a turning point, I hope. 

I began to think of the larger context of our culture.  Most of the land where I live is paved over with streets and houses and parking lots.  Cars travel by my house and studio everyday and make a lot of noise.  We are plugged in to our own personal soundtracks with radio and iPods.  Our culture is intent on the opposite:  we have a tremendous impact on the earth, and do not listen at all. 

When I was in Elementary School, my Dad bought land in the woods and had a house built, which we lived in for many years. The woods were home to many white-tailed deer.  I often had deer encounters where the deer and I would share eye contact for a couple of seconds until the deer walked or ran away.  Those were memorable moments for me.  “Listen Hard, Walk Softly” is an amalgam of experiences colliding and mixing together:  my shame in being a bird plow, my sadness at the loss of Nature where I live, and the quiet magic of a wild creature.  These meditations struck a responsive chord so strong I had to make this sculpture in bronze. The ears would never have survived in stone, and they are the integral element.  If I don’t listen, I will never hear. 


Lelija Roy & Ellen Woodbury, Featured Artists in Vail January 04 2014, 0 Comments

Here is a great little article that ran in the Vail Daily today:

 The Art on a Whim gallery in Vail is currently exhibiting work by two artists: Lelija Roy and Ellen Woodbury. Both artists have gained worldwide acclaim for working with traditional subjects in a wholly atypical fashion.

Roy is notorious for her self-described obsession with aspens. She loves the look and textures of the trees; the way their leaves shimmer in the wind never ceases to amaze her. Perhaps the largest source of inspiration for her work is the fact that every aspen grove is a single organism. She loves the sisterhood concept that she finds in the serenity of an aspen forest, she said.

Roy fuses layer upon layer of painted rice papers, silk, lace and other fabrics with acrylic paints, pastels, ink and more to create her dreamlike aspen groves. Each piece consists of approximately two dozen layers in all. Roy’s trees are made from individual strands of hand-painted rice paper. This provides viewers with the feeling of discovering unique trees amongst the whole of the grove. Her mountains and rocks are often made from silk and lace, giving each piece a feeling of suppleness not often found in the art world. Acrylic paints are combined with color shifting metallic and iridescent paints to capture the changing light one experiences while observing an aspen grove.

For six weeks, Roy has been painting in the Art on a Whim show space on a near daily basis. Given the mix of materials Roy combines to create her work, watching her work can easily be likened to watching a forest grow. It is a fascinating experience. The end result of her efforts has found her work collected throughout the world.

Woodbury spent the majority of her career working as a directing animator at Disney. Name a Disney movie made from the late 1980s to early 2000s, and she has worked on it. Highlights include “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” and many more. In 2005, Woodbury left her career at Disney to pursue a stronger passion. These days she spends several hundreds of hours carving stylized animals out of precious and exotic stones.

Woodbury’s work speaks to the innocence in its viewers. The Disney connection is evident in each piece she creates.

“I apply my knowledge of and experience in animation to my process of designing and carving stone,” Woodbury said. “I think of my creative life as an ascending spiral where one medium inspires and informs another.”

“Squash and Stretch,” a lovely depiction of white tailed ptarmigans made from Sivec and Mogolian Imperial Black Marble, is named after one of the most important ingredients in Disney animation. It is defined by change in shape with no change in volume. Soft curves and crisp edges highlight “Squash and Stretch,” causing light to play over the surfaces to gently reveal the variety of forms and the crystals in the marble. Also on display in the Art on a Whim show space is a Phoenix, coyote, blue bird, a frog and two zebras. Each piece is one-of-a-kind and uniquely whimsical. Woodbury does not believe in editions for sculptures and once she creates a piece it is never to be cast or recreated again.

Both artists thoroughly enjoy explaining their techniques and inviting collectors, new and old, to browse their works. Their show is housed in a 900-plus square foot show space in the heart of Vail Village. The Art on a Whim gallery is the newest gallery in Vail. For more information visit artonawhim.com or call 970-476-4883.

Click here to view the article on the Vail Daily website.