Jeffrey Woods ’96 is a refugee from the land of software development. He has moved back to Tucson, his birthplace, and runs Woodeye Studios, a custom glassware studio. Here he talks about art professors, exhibiting at the Springfield Museum, regrets about not moving to France, and more.
What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? While I was born in Arizona, I was actually raised in Jamestown, Ohio, only about thirty minutes away from Antioch. When it came time for college, I did not even consider Antioch, and instead went to Kent State where I floundered for a year trying find myself. I dropped out and spent the next year working two menial jobs, sixty to eighty hours a week and not feeling overly optimistic about my life. Then my mother (Cheryl Williamson) got a job working for the Antioch Development Office as JD Dawson's assistant, a job that she truly enjoyed. She urged me to look at Antioch and think about returning to school.
When I came to campus the first time there were no students, as it was about a week before classes were to start, and I walked around that beautiful campus, spellbound. While wandering by the art building, I ran into the painting professor, Gary Bower, and we talked about Antioch and art in general for over two hours while he showed me around. I was blown away! At Kent State I was but one of 27,000 people, and my professors could not have cared less about me, while at Antioch, where I was not even a student yet, I had already been provided with more one on one time with a college professor than I had seen in a year at Kent, and from a professor who was brilliant and engaging. I went home that day and put together my application. As for my major, there was no doubt, after my walk around campus with Gary, that I was coming to Antioch to study Visual Arts. I never once regretted that decision. I have no doubt at all that I would not be an artist today if I had not come to Antioch.
What's your favorite memory of being at Antioch? There are a ton, but perhaps my absolute favorite was a night of unparalleled inspiration that I had less than a week before my senior show. There were only three of us graduating in our department that year and traditionally we would all have solo shows in different sections of the Noyse gallery in the art building. But when it came time to divide the space, one person just wanted the small back alcove, while the other actually wanted the auxiliary gallery upstairs. So suddenly instead of having one third of the main gallery, I was being asked to take the whole thing! I had some large work, but nothing that was going to keep the space from overwhelming the art.
I spent a couple of days moving things around, and then scrounging in a Springfield junkyard finding interesting parts. Two nights before my senior show I went to the sculpture annex and began creating a sculpture that was all balanced and pinned together by its own weight. At three a.m. I finished, completely thrilled and energized, so much so that I looked at the remaining parts I had, and I started building another sculpture that was even bigger! By the time I was done, it was seven-thirty in the morning and I had managed to create an eight foot by three foot balanced steel scorpion and a thirteen foot tall by eight foot wide sculpture featuring part of the front of a semi truck and a train axle. I had made the entire classroom almost inaccessible in the process!
Luckily David LaPalombara seemed amused by the whole thing, though he did remind me of the unfortunate fact that if I wanted them in my senior show they would have to be disassembled and reassembled in the gallery, and he would really like to have his classroom back by the next day. I meticulously photographed everything using one of the first digital cameras ever available (a then state-of-the-art Apple QuickTake 150) and spent the next thirty-six hours straight removing and recreating the sculptures in the gallery. In the end I was exceptionally happy with the show, but I slept through my own opening. I had finished with only two hours to spare, and I had been awake for over forty-eight hours. Why is this one of my favorite memories? It reminds me of both the level of opportunity Antioch provided me, and how this school inspired me to pursue my goals
Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? Gary Bower was a great influence my first two years, before he left to be the Director of the LaCoste School of Art in France. If I have one regret, it’s that I did not follow him there after graduating Antioch. I think a couple years of stone sculpture and print making in France would have been a hell of a way to follow up Antioch, but, at the time, I was set on learning silversmithing and opening Woodeye Studios. We all have to follow our own paths, and this is the one I ended up taking. I will always be immensely grateful for the numerous hours of discussions with Gary. He was a catalyst for exploring artistic boundaries and genres. He was not the only professor to have an impact on me, but he was probably the most significant as well as the main influence that brought me to Antioch to begin with.
Later, after Gary left, I moved more toward sculpture for a while, and David LaPalombara helped me broaden my horizons through a variety of sculpture techniques, from casting and welding to stone sculpture, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I created works that I was quite proud of. Gary and David both gave me the tools and motivation to explore my artistic nature to its fullest. As a result I think I took part in five group shows and had two large solo shows by my third year at Antioch. During my final year Faina Gakh and I were given a room at the Springfield Museum for a six-week exhibition. I doubt those things would have been possible without some pretty great professors pushing me to create.
What was your favorite co-op? What did you learn from it? I really don’t know how to choose, because I was lucky enough to have some pretty fabulous opportunities while at Antioch. I spent time working for a wonderful potter named Kate Brown at a hot springs ranch in the stunning southern tip of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. I also had an independent study co-op where I was able to convert a garage overlooking a frozen lake into my art studio for three months, and Gary Bower would drive out to critique my work every 2 weeks. I created over thirty paintings and had my first solo show, and all because Antioch gave me the chance to explore my work with such freedom. Later I served as the gallery coordinator and eventually the student director of the Herndon Gallery in South Hall, overseeing events and helping plan future exhibitions. I also had 2 off campus study periods that were just like study co-ops. I canoed the Mississippi river in the summer of ’04 with the Environmental Field Program, and then went to the New York City GLCA Arts Program on the Herndon Fellowship where I assisted the late architectural sculpture artist Glen Seator with a major installation at the Nueberger Museum. I feel like I packed quite a bit into 4 years at Antioch!
All these opportunities helped me learn both my strengths and weaknesses, as well as what realm of the art world I really wanted to be in. I enjoyed working at the Herndon but I knew I wanted to create my own art more then I wanted to manage or direct exhibitions. Kate Brown showed me something about the beauty of art brought to useful objects. Before my co-op with her, all I had ever created was pure art without purpose. I would like to think her influence had a lot to do with what made me do the work I am doing now on glassware.
Any stirring words of wisdom about the independence of Antioch College? Antioch is not a building, not a place. It’s people. To this day, my best friends in life and some of the most intriguing people I have ever know were people I met at Antioch. So, as long as the new college remembers the importance of the Antioch community, I think it will have every chance of succeeding.
Honestly, improved art facilities. I understand why it’s not on the top of priorities, but knowing what Antioch’s artistic independence was able to offer me, I would love to see the facilities upgraded and an entire new generation of Antioch artists rise out of it. I would also add an art glass facility teaching torch work, fusing, casting, and sandblasting techniques. I can only imagine what I might be creating today if I had a chance to explore glass arts back then!
Why do you donate to Antioch College? I recently decided to start donating a small amount each month. It’s not huge, but I wanted to show my support for the Independent Antioch. In the past I would have felt that most alumni donations would just disappear into the void of the University, but now I feel like it will actually matter, and I know it’s going back to a place I love and want to see succeed once more.
About his current work:I originally started Woodeye Studios as a gallery and silversmithing studio in Yellow Springs shortly after graduating from Antioch back in '96. I ran a few shows featuring local artists, as well my own paintings, and cast silver jewelry. It was a great experience, but hardly a financial success, so I shuttered it and moved west where I worked in the software field for a decade before finally moving back to Tucson and returning to my art roots. I began exploring the artistic side of sandblasting glass with Michael Joplin at the Sonoran Glass Art Academy, and then relaunched Woodeye Studios as a custom glassware studio in ’06. Currently I make a line of etched and painted glassware that sells in galleries and boutiques around the country, and last year my “Open Sun” glasses were added to the collection of the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts in Denver, CO. You can also see my entire collection online at www.woodeye-glassware.com.