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Corcoran College of Art and Design Professor Marie Ringwald has been exhibiting her petite houselike constructions in Washington since the early ’80s. After a decade of showing at the artist-run Foundry Gallery, she began to exhibit more widely during the early ’90s. Now she’s been signed on by the Troyer Gallery, where her first major D.C. show since 1995 is on display through March 30.
“Constructions” showcases more than 40 of Ringwald’s small sculptures of abstracted barns, storage sheds, and Quonset huts. Some are nearly two-dimensional and hang on the walls, like paintings, whereas others sit on stands. With their tiny windows and detailed clapboard siding in dollhouse-sized proportions, these structures look like residences for some very architecturally progressive manikins. Just don’t confuse them with houses.
“They’re not houses,” says Ringwald, 54. “I really don’t work on house imagery very much. The pieces are warehouses and sheds and storage-type things. The reason I like that kind of structure is that it’s much more mundane—sort of down-to-earth in a utilitarian way. They’re the sort of spaces that people work in or store things in…like holding places for gatherings of people or animals.”
Ringwald works mostly in finely crafted woods, with metal, plastic, and glass added to the mix for roofs and windows. Some pieces are tiny, as small as 4 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches; others are as wide as Ringwald is tall—about 5-foot-3. That size limit “just came about sort of naturally,” she says. “With a lot of sculptors, there are sizes that are comfortable.”
Ringwald imparts her fascination with materials, shape, and form to pupils in her day job as chair of the Corcoran’s foundation-year program; she teaches a course called “Resources,” which instructs first-year students how to work with plastic, wood, metal, and rubber. “A group of us designed it because we realized the students were increasingly coming in without real simple, basic experiences,” she notes. “They never took shop.”
Ringwald’s passion for woods and metal has won her some pretty strange gifts over the years from students and colleagues. “A sculptor and furniture-maker gave me a box one year all wrapped up in fancy paper,” she says, recalling one of her favorites. “Inside were scrap pieces of lead and scrap pieces of annealed copper.” —Garance Franke-Ruta