Syd Carpenter is a sculptor living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She studied painting and ceramics at the Tyler School of art receiving her MFA degree in 1976. Her work, focusing on African American farms and gardens, is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian, Fuller Craft Museum, the Tang Museum of Skidmore College, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, The Swedish National Museum, the James A Michener Museum, Woodmere Museum and the Montreal Museum of Art. She is Professor Emeritas of Studio Art at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
She has been a resident artist at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, Anderson Ranch, the Vermont Studio School and the Watershed Center. Travels to China, Ghana, Brazil, West Africa, Indonesia and Central America have all influenced her work. She has been a professor of studio art at Swarthmore College since 1991. She currently holds the Endowed Peggy Chan Professorship of Black Studies at Swarthmore. Her awards and felllowships include a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Leeway Foundation Grants, National Endowment for the Arts, and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships. Current projects include “The Crest a permanent outdoor garden installation that combines horticulture and sculpture. A new garden/sculpture installation is planned for the Colored Girls Museum in Philadelphia. And the Berman Museum of Ursinus College has commissioned a garden/sculpture for its campus. Her upcoming retrospective will be exhibited in the galleries of the Berman Museum.
My ceramic sculptures illustrate my observations of plant life and its infinite shapes, textures and movement. Currently, I have been making work that explores the presence of African Americans as stewards of the land. That presence is an obscured narrative that the sculptures are intended to reveal.
It was the purchase of my own land that set me on the path of unearthing more complex and nuanced understandings of African Americans on the land, not as enslaved victims but as creators of beauty, community and providers of home places remaining in families for multiple generations. My series Places of Our Own and More Places of Our Own represent farms and gardens visited in Georgia, South Carolina and the Gullah Islands in 2012. I collected soil from each place as well as images and videos. The resulting sculptures are not replicas or even portraits in the representational sense of the word. Rather they are reactions to the spaces featuring idiosyncratic details observed at each farm or garden, often appearing as abstractions whose dark velvet surfaces represent the sun warmed skin of the farmers and gardeners
My grandmother Indiana Hutson and my mother Ernestine Carpenter were master gardeners. In the Mother Pins series, I use the form of an antique clothes pin to represent Ernestine. I still have the clothes pins she used to hang our clothing, a strong feminine shape. Each Mother Pin represents her in a different mythical state. Although predominantly made of clay, I combine materials including lentil beans, metal, and found objects. My most recent work is a series of sculptural bowls. The bowl as a vessel to receive and offer is a metaphor for the land cultivated by African Americans. The bowls are titled with their names.