85 and going strong: New exhibition focuses on Detroit artist, mentor Shirley Woodson

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

At an age when most people would be settling into retirement, longtime Detroit artist and mentor Shirley Woodson, 85, is doing anything but.

Woodson, a renowned painter and former art educator whose career spans six decades, was named the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist earlier this year.

Now, Woodson's work is the subject of a new exhibition, "Shirley Woodson: Why Do I Delight," that opened Friday at the Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward Ave. The exhibition, curated by Leslie Graves, runs through Oct. 23.

Woodson's "On Angel Wing" (2006) is an example of her bold brush strokes that have become her signature style.

The 28-piece exhibit takes its name from a poem Woodson wrote in tribute to her husband, who died in 2000.

Graves said it's hard to sum up all the contributions Woodson, who has taught art at nearly every level and has her work in collections across the country, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and Studio Museum in Harlem, has made to arts and culture in not just Detroit but nationally.

"In a society that continues to place limits on women of a certain age, Shirley knows no boundaries and for that reason, this octogenarian is truly an inspiration," said Graves.

The exhibition includes some of Woodson's early paintings and collage work produced in muted tones along with her trademark richly-colored, textured abstracts, according to the Detroit Artists Market. It also includes pieces by six of her protégés, including Elizabeth Youngblood, Dwight Smith and Kimberly Harden.

"Shirley Wood: Why Do I Delight" at the Detroit Artist Market will include both Woodson's paintings but pieces from some of her protégés.

Woodson, who was drawn to art even as a child, taught art classes in the Detroit Public School Community District, Highland Park Community College and Eastern Michigan University before returning to DPS in an administrative role, supervising art education.

In the 1960s, ignoring the advice of a gallerist who suggested she switch to watercolors, Woodson started focusing on abstract paintings with bold brush strokes, which have become her signature style. 

Fry, director of the Detroit Artists Market, is a fan of Woodson's work.

"I’ve met many artists and have experienced a multitude of artistic techniques, and in that sea of creativity, Shirley Woodson’s style has always stuck out to me," said Fry.

Graves, the curator, said her approach to putting the exhibition together started with interviewing Woodson several times. They talked about her early life, parents, schooling, Saturday classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts and creating exhibition opportunities when mainstream galleries were "unwelcoming and more." Graves eventually visited Woodson's studio.

"She has the ability to draw you into her stories while simultaneously creating a visual narrative," said Graves. "Shirley is a treasure."


'Shirley Woodson: Why Do I Delight'

Sept. 24-Oct. 23 at the Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward Ave.

Curated by Leslie Graves

Go to https://www.detroitartistsmarket.org/.