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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Mar. 24, 2010 9 years ago

In Living Color

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Florence Putterman is known for several things: her giant black glasses that conjure up images of late Vogue style editor and Old Navy pitchwoman Carrie Donovan; her crushed shell-and-sand canvases, dense with symbolism and color; and her relentless energy.

“I’m just in love with the creative process,” says Putterman, sinking into the sectional sofa in her spacious Lido Shores home. “I think when you start out, you’re painting pretty traditional things ­­— landscapes, flowers … ”

She gestures toward an early painting of tulips in a vase. The work couldn’t be more straightforward or different than the frenzied abstract canvases with which Putterman, 82, is now identified. Other than the family snapshots covering her grand piano, the tulip painting is about the most common thing in
Putterman’s home.

“Everything in here is going to be hanging in the show,” Putterman says, referring to the survey of her work, which opens March 25, at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design. The show is one of Putterman’s largest exhibitions and includes more than 60 pieces of her work from 1949 to 2009. “Even my sculptures are going.”

Something Putterman fans might not know is that the artist is a scavenger. She loves creating sculptures out of found materials. Her living room is filled with random and weathered bits of debris, including a crab trap pulled from the Gulf, a piece of decorative stone she found washed up beneath a bridge by her house, an old record holder and wood salvaged from a carpenter ant infestation at her second home in Selinsgrove, Pa.

“The most fun I have is when I find things,” Putterman says, flipping through a 1981 issue of American Artist magazine. “I never cut anything in half. I just use what I find.”

She opens to a lengthy feature on herself. The piece, which opens with a picture of Putterman standing in her spotless Pennsylvania home in corduroy bell bottoms, is titled, “An Award Winning Studio.”

The headline — and pants — always amuse Putterman, mostly because she can’t remember the last time her studio was that pristine, nor can she remember what happened to those corduroy pants.

The story came out two years after Putterman received a National Endowment grant to study the communicative symbols of Anasazi Indians in the American Southwest. The resulting monotypes — large-scale, on-site prints based on ancient petroglyphs or rock carvings — would provide the foundation for much of Putterman’s work from the 1980s to now.

“Her original inspirations were the petroglyphs,” says Jane Buckman, director of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts. “She was so moved by these marks that she was able to reach inside herself to find what would communicate her story. I think that’s why people respond to her work. It demonstrates our humanness. It comes from a primitive place.”

As a teenager, Putterman, who grew up in the 1940s in Brooklyn, N.Y., was told to pursue bookkeeping or stenography. Though she dreamed of becoming an artist and spent hours sketching, she received no encouragement from her parents or teachers. Like most women her age, it was assumed that once she married and had children, her time would be spent tending to household chores.

“I knew nothing about art,” Putterman says. “I remember I made a sculpture out of Ivory soap in art class and my teacher told my parents she was going to flunk me.”

So, Putterman majored in advertising and journalism at New York University, got married and had two sons. It wasn’t until she moved to Selinsgrove and began taking classing from a Viennese artist in her neighborhood that she realized her artistic impulses had never waned.

She enrolled in graduate art classes at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pa., and in the summer, she sent her boys to camp so she could study photography, ceramics and printmaking at Pennsylvania State University. At 45, she was older than most of her instructors, and in 1973 she earned her master’s degree.

“My advice to young artists is to keep plugging away,” says Putterman, who last year published “Entwined Metaphors,” a hardcover art book and autobiography. “If I didn’t keep plugging away, who knows what I’d be doing? And always talk to strangers. You never know where it’ll lead you.”

“Florence Putterman: A Survey of Works, 1949 to 2009” runs March 26 to April 22, at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, 6860 Longboat Drive S. For more information, call 383-2345 or visit

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].

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