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Gladys Thompson Roth, Sculpting the Wisdom of Life

Artist Gladys Thompson Roth, who may be best known in Great Neck for her leadership at Womanspace, is delighted that a retrospective of her work as a sculptor will be on exhibit at the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery starting today and running through the month of February 2011. The exhibit, entitled A Journey in Stone and Wood, will highlight her progression from her early works in clay from 1985 and her passage into stone and wood up to the present.

Ms. Roth, whose looks and vitality belie her stated age of 87, believes that the quotation from renowned sculptor Mark di Suvero, “Your sculpture shall tell who you are” is an apt one. From that basis, it is clear that Ms. Roth’s work is inspired by human relationships and the wisdom that comes through living life fully and reflectively. In much the same way that one gains empathy from listening to another person, one may develop a feeling of the potential within a stone or a piece of wood by an artistic eye and feel that is similar to empathy.

The works have a beauty that is in harmony with the raw material. They reflect sensuality and warmth and almost beg to be touched. Most are rounded, sometimes with a flow into the rough. In one work, Marriage, which Ms. Roth sculpted from alabaster as a wedding gift to one of her daughters, the piece expresses her belief that in marriage there is a solid shared base, but also space for the freedom of individuality. Ms. Roth having been married to her husband, Martin, for 60 years certainly has some wisdom about the topic to convey.

With a degree in early childhood education from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree in special education from New York University, Ms. Roth worked for many years in varying positions in the public school system. She remembers those years as rich and rewarding.

She began learning about direct carving in 1987 from Aline Geist, who studied with Alfred van Loen. Ms. Roth says that Ms. Geist’s “background in music and dance transmitted the concept of movement and rhythm to sculpture...from her I learned to see three-dimensional forms and the techniques to execute them in stone and wood.” Ms. Roth says that she most enjoys working in a classroom setting because she feels that artists need a supportive community for their work and that working alone can feel isolating. However, she does do some work at home. She laughs and acknowledges that carving wood and chiseling stone is very messy work, but she has a three-sided box on her kitchen counter to surround a work in progress that keeps debris from flying everywhere.

She did not move to Great Neck until her daughters had graduated from high school and she had retired from teaching. Although she knew some people here already, she became more immersed in the community through her involvement at Womanspace. But a natural born teacher always finds something to teach. She teaches a memoir-writing course at Womanspace and finds that the experience of sharing and revealing is creatively stimulating... “I get so much out of it!”

Ms. Roth is excited and a “little nervous” about the upcoming exhibit. She admits she has difficulty parting with her works, which in a way makes the artistic experience more personal since she can do what she wants without the pressure of marketing.

She is willing to share herself, but not “sell” herself. A very liberating and liberated woman indeed.

The Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York is located at 222-05 56th Avenue, Bayside. The gallery is closed on Mondays. It is open on Tuesday and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 5 p.m.