Judy Pyle Transforms Scraps of Metal into 3D Works of Art
By Adam Kulikowski | Photography by Casey Martin
Art has been in the veins of Gettysburg’s Judy Pyle since she began drawing sketches of milk jugs for the milkman at her family’s home when she was 2 years old. As an eighth-grader, she won an award for her illustration of the United Nations building—foreshadowing her future work inspiring others to reflect on current events.
Growing up, she did illustrations for family and friends. As an adult, she did work in churches, helping children learn to draw, and served as an art teacher at Gettysburg Area High School until 2001 when she retired.
Each step along the way shaped the artist Pyle is today.
“She is passionate about peace in the world,” long-time friend Gloria Pollock says. “She’s devoted her life to educating, working with migrant workers. She’s been in Central America. She’s always been a force to be reckoned with in the community.”
Never one to sit idly, she is an outspoken advocate for social justice. It shines in her art.
“She’s a very unique, very outspoken, very passionate artist and citizen,” Pollock says. “She feels very deeply about injustice and the human condition. I admire that in her and her artwork.”
Her passion for the arts inspired her to continue learning different skills and mediums. Her career included time in interior design. She dabbled in pottery and grew up drawing. But one inspired her to change mediums—metalsmithing.
“One day I saw this catalogue for metalsmithing and on the cover was this piece, it was three dimensional,” Pyle says. “It looked like an old radio and I thought, this would be so much fun, making things in three dimensions.”
Her beginning as a metalsmith was that simple.
Soon, her carefully crafted pieces would inspire thought and introspection. Her jewelry often showcases bright blues and whimsical swirls.
“She is so much into the artistry, the skill, the history of things,” former student Theo Pintte says. “She is very different. She’s in a category of her own. It is the combination of her skill. She can do pretty much anything. She is a perfectionist—her ability to relate to the world. She really commits herself. She doesn’t just touch on the surface. She really goes deep.”
Each piece of her work is handmade—molded, bent, and soldered with care. Some glisten with gold, silver, or gems. Each begins with a concept drawn out from a vision or inspiration from a photograph, often current events or history.
“She has a quirky ability to make something beautiful out of something that could be tragic,” Pollock says. “She has been able to find the beauty. [Pyle] takes a moral issue and explores it. She makes it a thing that’s beautiful—something that you wouldn’t be afraid to wear, to own or display. Because it not only makes a statement, it is artistically pleasing.”
Consider her work in portraying the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans in 2005.
She pauses for a moment before recalling the piece she created representing the tragic events. A pair of photographs in The New York Times captured Pyle’s attention.
“That was certainly inspired by photographs of people coming out of the [Ernest N. Morial] Convention Center,” Pyle says of the finished piece. “They looked like the Holy Family to me.”
“Those front-page photos in The
New York Times, I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ When you study art, Italian art, there are a lot of holy families in Italian art in the 1500s and 1600s. That’s what inspired me.”
The Saint’s House, as the piece is named, features a pair of saint’s medals with images of Katrina survivors. She attached the photos to polymer clay and added gold leaf halos around each head.
But Pyle knew the metals needed more. They needed a place to live.
She crafted them a home, putting the humble dwelling on stilts. She added steps going down to the water. She added screen windows and doors, and distressed the look of the exterior and added a silver boat to complete the work.
She molded the small rowboat figure with care—and with detail. She skillfully cut the pieces with a jeweler’s saw and bent them into the proper form. She soldered each together, adding detail to the boat to resemble wood. Each step had meaning. Each step had a purpose. The name plated to the side of the miniature boat’s bow, “Evangeline,” symbolizes a town that had been flooded in 1926 in New Orleans.
The boat hangs on an exterior wall of the dwelling—a path out, an escape, a positive ending.
The positive ending? That’s a signature in Pyle’s work.
“When I think of people who can’t get out of places, it is like a bad dream. I try to make the dream where there is an escape, a happy ending,” Pyles says. “I’m a happy person by nature. I’m realistic, but always on the bright side. I’m not going to dwell on the down side. There has to be a way forward and that’s what is overarching on all my work, that there is a way forward. Even in my boat, it is filled with corn and vegetables.”
That speaks volumes in Pyle’s work.
“I know my work is different,” Pyles says. “It’s thought provoking. I want people to look inside…there is always that looking inside. I want people to look at things, look at people, and look at their souls.”
Artist, Metalsmith, Jeweler