Mary Frank is known for creating stoneware sculptures that have the appearance of terra cotta fragments dug up at an archaeological site. Sometimes a half-finished relief head barely escapes from the clay; sometimes a figure, as in "Untitled" (1975), lies in pieces.
Born in England in 1933, Frank had her first one-woman show at the Poindexter Gallery in New York in 1958, and has shown at least once a year ever since. She has taught at the New School for Social Research and Queens College and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Council of the Arts Grant and a Guggenheim award.
Franks terra cottas transmit complex emotions, often of melancholy and quiet pathos. In "Lovers" (1973-1974), intertwined male and female figures made up of large, broken shards of clay lie in ancient-looking fragments that suggest both the transitory nature of passion, and its endurance through time. Fossil-like imprints of the stems of ferns and leaves are pressed into the clay of the torsos, reinforcing the sense of nature and of life long gone, yet leaving its forms behind.
This emotional quality is combined in Franks work, with an intense interest in the formal qualities of clay sculpture. Broken edges and contours of the forms curl in and out, and alternate between jagged and smooth, positive and negative. The wings on some figures, and the edges of the draperies wave to give them an airy, floating quality. As in all fine clay sculpture, there is the ever-present sense of the artists hand shaping the material and feeling its way around the form.