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Smithsonian buys sculptures from Watertown artist

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Her work came to the attention of the Smithsonian when she displayed some of her pieces at an art show in Ocean City, Md., in 2009.

“Two people came up and said, ‘Oh, we want your work for the Smithsonian.’ I was so excited,” McRoberts said. “Then I didn’t hear from them for about a year. In December I got an email.

“They wanted to see what I had. I sent them a disc (with photographs of her sculptures), and they selected four pieces to purchase for the Renwick Gallery.”

The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, features one of the finest collections of American crafts in the United States. Its collections, exhibition program and publications highlight the best craft objects and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present, according to the Smithsonian Web site.

One-of-a-kind pieces created from clay, fiber, glass, metal and wood from American Art’s permanent collection of contemporary craft are displayed on a rotating basis in the second-floor galleries. 

“The Smithsonian buyer has never seen my work, just the pictures. I don’t think photos do justice to them because you can’t see the texture and intricate details,” McRoberts said.

Fiber sculptor McRoberts creates most of her work from wool fiber, which she purchases from France, England and Germany. They’re all natural colors, so they are the color of sheep. Occasionally, she also uses silk, cotton and linen.

“I market my work primarily through art shows. I sell about everything I make,” said McRoberts, who attends shows in Florida in the winter and in the Northeast in the summer.  She says her work involves time-consuming labor, so she makes 20 to 30 pieces a year. In the past 29 years, she has turned out 500 to 600 pieces, and she has kept a portfolio as a record of each copyrighted sculpture.

McRoberts has won best of show and other awards at shows in Savannah, Ga.; Lexington, Ky.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Vero Beach, Fla.; and Nashville during the past eight years. She has completed pieces as corporate commissions from companies in Connecticut, New York, Kentucky, New Jersey and Maryland. 

It began while teaching a high school art class in Owensboro, Ky., where she taught for 17 years.

“They asked me to teach weaving, so I made a small loom with my students. After teaching it, I started appreciating it more,” said McRoberts, who formerly was a stained-glass artist.

“Weaving was relaxing, and at that time (about 1982), Phyllis George Brown (the first lady of the Bluegrass State) was supportive of the visual arts in Kentucky. I got started with small weavings. Over 29 years it has just evolved to this point,” she said.

McRoberts and her husband relocated to Watertown seven years ago after a stint in Nashville because her son decided to leave the Big Apple.

“My son, Scott McRoberts, who is also an artist, was in New York on 9/11 and saw the towers come down. He called me and said, ‘We have to have a safe place to raise our family. There is a little town called Watertown that seems so nice and so safe.’”

About a year after her son’s family settled in the Wilson County community, Gloria and her husband followed.

“We came to visit them and saw a house for sale on Main Street. I realized it was perfect for a grandma-grandpa house, and it had space for a studio. We decided to move here and haven’t regretted it. Watertown is a perfect town for an artist to live in. When you’re not doing your work, you can find lots of other artists to talk to.”

Feature Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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