It has been 14 years since Roberta Powell wiped the last of the clay dust from her hands.

It has been 14 years since Roberta Powell wiped the last of the clay dust from her hands.

During those years, her sculptures that captivated the local art scene in the 1980s and '90s have been on display only in her private gallery in her Evening Street home.

The only way to see her work was to catch a glimpse of one of her outdoor pieces when she displayed them in her backyard, or, more recently, as you entered the new McConnell Arts Center (MAC), where one of her outdoor works permanently greets visitors.

Now through April 18, though, Powell's followers are in luck. Roberta Powell (In) humanity is the featured exhibit in the main gallery at the MAC.

The body of her versatile work is all there, from the haunting Ethiopian people to the ironic bust of a wealthy central Ohio woman; from the likenesses of Nelson Mandela and Elijah Pierce to some of her award-winning abstract pieces, such as Distraught Pregnant Mermaid and her own personal favorite, Elephant Pot.

Viewed individually, the pieces are powerful. As a life's work, they show a wide range of styles that won many awards and much attention from the art world when Powell chose to participate in that realm.

Veteran Worthington art lovers remember when Powell's sculptures graced the Village Green in the early 1990s. But she also exhibited throughout the state and nearby states, was commissioned to create busts of famous Ohioans such as Gov. James Rhodes, and won first place and best of show awards in Worthington and Columbus shows.

She also has won attention and awards for her works depicting poverty, especially the near life-size figures of 11 people suffering the ravages of hunger in the Starving Ethiopians.

She created the group in 1984-87 as she saw newspaper photos of people in that country, and wanted to convey the horror of their plight.

"My deep concern for man's inhumanity directs me to fashion art which speaks out about the socio-political conditions of the world," Powell said. That is one of her quotes that hangs on the wall of the MAC gallery as a backdrop for her work.

Today the message is just as relevant as it was 25 years ago. Poverty and hunger still exist throughout the world, and more recently earthquakes in Haiti and Chile have brought to the country's attention the already poor living conditions in parts of those countries.

All of Powell's works were created by hand; she never learned to work a wheel. Many of her larger pieces were done at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center. The center made special tables for some of the larger pieces in the Ethiopian series. Made life-size, they shrunk to two-thirds their original size during the firing process.

Powell said she was thrilled to again be able to share her artwork with Worthington at the MAC.

"I haven't sculpted for 14 years, so when they asked me to have a show here I was absolutely stunned," she said.

She didn't have to carry her pieces far. The Powell home is just a block from the MAC. All of her children and all but one of her grandchildren went to Evening Street School, which is next door. Four are there now.

And returning to the MAC is like coming full circle, since it was in that building - then the high school annex - where she learned to sculpt back in the late 1970s, when she was 48.

Her husband was taking a bridge class, and she tagged along and eventually found herself in a sculpture class. At the end of the term, the teacher fired one of her pieces and delivered it to her home, where Powell promptly placed in the trash can.

"I thought 'that's a piece of junk,'" she remembered.

She continued to take classes at the home of that teacher, Margaret James, and eventually realized that she had some talent.

"I was hooked," she said.

So why has she given it up?

"I filled my house and I kind of said it all," she said.

She now works with her daughter, her husband, and son-in-law running The Collection, an antique and new furniture store in Powell. She buys the antiques and adds her artist's touch to the shop.

She isn't planning a return to the art world any time soon, but may get her hands dirty again as she helps teach a class or two at the MAC in the coming months.

"I may go over and fool around a little bit," she said.