Pamela Boden Biography

Pamela Boden

British / American



Pamela Boden (1905-1981) was born in Derbyshire, England on April 23, 1905.  She was principally home-tutored except for one year at Heathfield. When she was seventeen, her family moved to Germany, where she studied music and art in Dresden and Munich. She also studied life drawing in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1927, Boden moved to the South of France where she began an irreverent novel, Persian Paradise; while never published, her writing set the tone for the attitude she displayed in her future work, whatever the form. Returning to Paris, Boden began to associate with the artistic community and met the English composer Stanley Bate, who she briefly married (as a joke; they were both gay) and who exposed her to the contemporary music scene where she met the avant garde Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. Among of her circle of friends were the Surrealists, Dadaists, and Cubists including sculptors Hans (Jean) Arp and Ossip Zadkine and the painter Albert Gleizes. Another close friend was the Portuguese writer and film maker Virginia de Castro e Almeida with whom Boden began a relationship that lasted until Virginia’s death.

At age twenty-seven, Boden began to carve decorative panels but soon turned to three-dimensional sculpture. In 1936 she had her first one-woman show in Paris at a small gallery and exhibited at La Salon d’Automne with Albert Gleizes’s group. Stanley Bate had joined the Arts Theatre group at the end of 1939 and revived his score for the ballet Perseus. Boden designed the decor and costumes for Perseus and Keith Lester provided the choreography and Harold (Hal) Turner danced the title role. Perseus was performed in London on July 2, 1940 at The Arts Theatre Club. During this time Boden was living on the Ile St. Louis in the apartment Corbusier had designed for Helena Rubenstein.

In 1938, Pamela and Virginia moved to Portugal where Pamela illustrated a number of Virginia’s books and exhibited her sculpture in Lisbon. In November of 1940 Boden, Antonio Dacosta and Antonio Pedro organized the first Surrealist exhibition, titled EXPoem Esculture e Pintura at Repe House in Lisbon, Portugal, which was a key exhibition in Portugal for modernism. Boden exhibited six of her carved and assembled wooden sculptures.

After Virginia died in 1945 Boden immigrated to the United States, settling in New York. In 1946 she exhibited in a two-person show titled 5 Sculptures / Pamela Bodin (sic) / Clyfford Still: First Exhibition - Paintings from February 12 to March 7 at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery at 30 West 57th Street. Held in one of the four exhibition spaces, the Daylight Gallery, Boden showed five sculptures carved from Portuguese "cyclone-felled cedar" which were placed in the center of the gallery, surrounded by Still's paintings. The show was to have run between February 12 and March 2 but, due to a strike, received little press coverage and was extended to March 7. Additionally, her name was misspelled in all of the marketing leading up to the show, and thus the show did not provide the exposure an artist would otherwise have gained at a Peggy Guggenheim gallery. Despite these setbacks, comments on Boden's work were favorable, including that of art critic Emily Genauer who praised Boden's work as "highly original, sharply rythmic in their organization, and full of clean strength." The Art News review appraised the work as having "considerable ingenuity" with their "sharp, deep cuts, leaving the coarse grain mostly unpolished, and often utelizing knotholes."

Wanting a change of scenery, Boden, who was drawn to the high desert country, moved to New Mexico later that year and would remain there until 1955. During this period she showed with the Galeria Escondida, operated by Eulalia Emertaz in Taos, New Mexico, which was also exhibiting work by Richard Diebenkorn, Ed Corbett, Bea Mandelman, Louis Ribak, Andrew Dasberg and other Modernist painters living in Taos. In 1948, her sculptures were used in the avant-garde abstract film Color Fragments by the visionary artist/filmmaker Elwood Decker (1903-1992).

Between August 8 and 29, 1948 she exhibited in a two-person exhibition at the American Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles. The featured works were wood engravings by Rouault and “Introducing Fantastic Sculpture by Pamela Boden.” The gallery, located at 6727-1/2 Hollywood Boulevard was run by Barbara Byrnes and Clara Grossman and exhibited works by leading Surrealists - such as Man Ray - and showed experimental films by European Surrealists and Modernists. Elwood Decker created an experimental film for the opening of Boden’s show that used her sculptures, flexible mirrors, and other film techniques he had developed. Boden's work was included in the "70th Western Annual" exhibition at the Denver Museum.

Boden relocated to Los Angeles in 1955. There, she exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum and showed at the Paul Rivas Gallery. After three years made her final move to the San Francisco Bay Area, settling in Marin County. Here she perfected her sculpture technique, which had evolved into carefully cutting, shaping, and gluing together small pieces of wood into Surreal landscapes, birds and animals. Boden kept them unpainted, the only color being the wood and the "wood maché" mixture she learned from sculptor friend Robert Cremean. The maché was made of glue, sawdust and modeling paste, used like plaster that she added to create and secure the forms.  Her work was included in the biennial exhibition American Contemporary Painting and Sculpture 1963 at the University of Illinois in Urbana. She also exhibited in the Bay Area at the David Cole Gallery, the San Francisco Museum, Stanford University, the Richmond Art Center, and Ann O’Hanlon’s Sight and InsightGallery.

In 1978 her old friend from Paris, the Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks with the help of music critic James Murdoch, arranged for an exhibition of Boden’s sculpture in Sydney at the Australia Music Centre, Gallery A, between May 13 and June 3. Seven sculptures were selected and Glanville-Hicks contacted composer friends to compose a musical score for each sculpture in the show. The exhibition consisted of the following works: 1) Girondelle for Giraffes: composition by Australian Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912 – 1990); 2) Rocking Horse: composition by Australian Ross Edwards (born 1943); 3) The Magician’s Castle: composition by Australian Don Banks (1923 – 1980); 4) Gambol: composition by Australian Peter Sculthorpe (born 1929); Mountain Torrent: composition by American Lou Harrison (1917 – 2003); 6) Estuary: composition by Australian Vincent Plush (born 1950); 7) Horses Fleeing: composition by Australian David Gulpilil. (David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu, born 1958, is a skilled Aboriginal Australian dancer, tracker, hunter and musician who achieved an international reputation as an actor in the 1970 film Walkabout. Gulpilil composed his work on the didgeridoo.) The sculptures were exhibited on revolving stands with the music playing for each. The exhibition traveled on to the Tolarno Gallery in Melbourne.

Pamela Boden died in Inverness, California on August 1, 1981.

A variation of this biography appears with many illustrations in the book "Emerging From the Shadows - A Survey of Women Artists Working in California 1860-1960" by Maurine St. Gaudins, volume I, 2015; ISBN978-0-7643-4861-7