Autumn, that magical time of year when pumpkin everything has returned, the air is crisp and cool and whistles blow and crowds cheer with the return of football. Indicative of fall nights on the couch cozily engrossed in the game, the return of football is—at its heart—an enthralling annual tradition.
Take a moment to think about the images that football, and sports in general, can actually project and conjure. Watching the game means witnessing athletic feats, but it also means experiencing powerful emotional snapshots of time in competition. It’s these intense feelings that local Boulder sculptor Gail Folwell looks to capture in her work. With large-scale pieces commissioned both publicly and privately across the country, from the Denver Art Museum to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to Vail Resorts, Folwell strives to physically capture intense emotion in her work.
Q: Tell me the story of how you got into art and sculpting. When did it start, and what was that journey like?
A: My folks fueled that fire when I was young. Mom and I made clothes, papier mâché, candles, clay pots and macramé. I made art from scraps of leather, steel shavings and wood. At about 14, I got into making sports-themed sculptures out of wire. My dad had all of these pieces in his radio station, and his friends started contracting me to do more. That “client” experience inspired a degree in graphic design. Years later, while guest teaching design at the University of Denver, I took a one-day figurative sculpture class with oil-based clay. The medium was my language. It changed the course of my career.
Q: Do you feel your craft has evolved since you started sculpting? If so, how has your work both changed and stayed the same?
A. Absolutely. The most profound transition was when I lost both of my folks. I think the pure emotion of it launched what was truly my own voice, and I unconsciously let go of any previously learned styles. But I also don’t ever want to stop evolving. I’m interested in learning in all areas and have launched a hardware line and greeting card app to put that into practice. All of my art projects inform and alter each other.
Q: Your sculptures have such a unique and distinct style. What inspires their design?
A: My style is a result of the subject matter in the act of sculpting. For example, in sports, for me, the subject is active, personal and intense. As an athlete, I love competition, adrenaline and musculature. The design is a matter choice, from silhouette and surface handling to exaggeration, but to make art you have to capture what it feels like. That’s just something that happens. All of my art, sports-themed or otherwise, is a reflection of experiences that inspire me. I sculpt what I feel.
Q: You’ve done work for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and specialize in sports sculptures. What are some of the things you enjoy most about these experiences?
A: We all do what we do, whether it’s attend events, watch performances or visit places. We do it for the visceral effect, to feel the adrenaline, pain, strength or power of the experience. I make art for the same reason. Art is a way to revisit whatever moved me, and that’s what I’m trying to create and share.
Q: What are some projects that you are looking to work on in the future?
A: I love to see or hear that people personally connect with or relate to my art. Admittedly, sport can be a light-hearted theme that relates to many. When people personally connect to my more emotional work, it’s incredibly rewarding. I’d like to do more of that work in a public realm. Boulder Open Studios is happening in October, and that’s always a fun way to see which pieces in the studio connect with people.