Arts and Culture / News

Sculptor captures the art of sports (and other things)

Gail Folwell sculpted "The Pitch" for the city of Frisco, Texas and unveiled the work in spring 2011.

This year, sculptor Gail Folwell spent six months in France — looking at art, sketching and thinking — along with her architect husband and 12- and 14-year old children.

It’s a trip she’s always dreamed about taking with her family, and Bill Rey of the Claggett/Ray Gallery in Vail, Colo., says it’s a good thing she fit in the time away.

“I don’t think she’ll have time in the years to come,” he says. “Her career is just evolving and exploding.”

Even while Folwell was out of the country, her work has been getting attention.

This spring, the town of Frisco, Texas, unveiled the The Pitch outside the home field of AA baseball’s Frisco Roughriders.

Folwell was chosen from a pool of 74 artists and six finalists to commission the sculpture, which was also selected for the 2010 National Art Museum of Sport competition and exhibition. Standing 12 feet tall and made of 1,500 pounds of steel and bronze, The Pitch is a contemporary rendition of a baseball pitcher in a dynamic, post-release follow through.

“It has something to offer everyone in that it is both realistic and abstract,” says Richard Oldham, Frisco’s public art manager. “It is clearly one of the most successful of our public art projects and we are fortunate and proud to have The Pitch in our collection.”

An award-winning artist, Folwell is best known for her commissioned sports-themed sculptures, particularly The Edge — a twice-life-size, one-of-a-kind ski racer in Vail. She’s produced commissioned work for the National Hockey League and created a swimming monument for Bowling Green State University.

“She’s such an athlete, she’s really played every sport and she captures the essence that people who have been very involved in a sport respond to,” Oldham says. “What is wonderful are the world-class athletes who have critiqued her work — ski racers, cyclists, NHL hockey players. They just absolutely feel it has all the emotion and is so right on and yet it’s not like a photo realistic version.”

Folwell studied graphic design at DU and earned a BFA in 1983. Her mentor at the University was Judy Anderson, a local teacher and artist who has since founded PlatteForum, a residency program for young artists.

Anderson remembers Folwell as bright and inquisitive with big, bright sparkly eyes.

“You just had to give her a nudge and she would take off,” Anderson says. “She was really open and just sailed. She was interested in the relationship between movement, the body, athletics and artistic expression.”

Folwell went on to a successful graphic design career, owning and operating her own firm, Team Design International. She specialized in sports graphics with clients as large as K2, Head and Breckenridge. When Anderson left DU for Seattle, she invited Folwell to teach her classes while the University searched for Anderson’s replacement. During that time, Folwell took a couple of classes exploring new mediums, including sculpture. The experience changed the direction of her career.

Sculpture, Folwell finds, is the perfect medium to express her passions and ideas.

Today, her work often deals with love themes and life themes that are more personal and emotional, but her unique take on sports — her ability to capture the intensity, the crashes and the pain — is what sets her work apart.

“Athletic performance in particular moves me. It can be adrenaline, fear or something very poignant,” Folwell says. “Our bodies and what we are capable of, how we move is always something to behold. If our hockey players’ skates left trails of ink, this choreography of movement is like watching the creation of a musical score. But beyond sports, it’s the challenge to recreate what is captivating.”

Anderson says there’s a physicality and joy in Folwell’s work.

“It shows strength,” she says. “It’s not defined by a feminine touch, but you can see the sensitivity there. Some women artists you can tell they are women. [Her art] is much more like the strength of human beings — both males and females. In her newer work, she’s really taken off. She continues to progress.”

Of late, Folwell’s in search of the perfect line between representation and abstractness.

“I do love pushing limits,” Folwell says. “Where is that line? Abstract enough that it has what it needs to express all the fractured emotions and representative enough that the audience knows what it is. That’s a line I want to keep playing with.”

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