search  current discussion  categories  philosophy 

nytimes article: at 82, a sculptor remains true to form (and to energy)

updated fri 4 jan 02


Bacia Edelman on thu 3 jan 02

Claybuds: I did it. All by myself!! I got into the website of
the N.Y. Times and registered and sent this article about Ruth Duckworth,
one of my idols, to myself. I did it so I could share it with you.
I happen to adore her work and if I had to list names of those
whose influence was important to me, she would be a major one.
I will follow this post with a personal story about her.
Happy New Year! Bacia

>At 82, a Sculptor Remains True to Form (and to Energy)
>January 3, 2002
>CHICAGO, Jan. 2 - While the trend in ceramic sculpture has
>been toward the use of colorful glazes and busy detail,
>Ruth Duckworth has remained true to form. "Form is so much
>more important to me than color," she said recently at her
>studio, a former pickle factory here. Size is important,
>too. The petite Ms. Duckworth, 82, is perhaps best known
>for her large murals of often unglazed porcelain slabs as
>well as her abstract vessels.
>Her accomplishments and influence in the world of clay arts
>are widely recognized. In 1997 she received a gold medal
>from the American Craft Council for her lifetime
>achievement. This year the James Renwick Alliance, a
>nonprofit organization that helps support the Renwick
>Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, awarded Ms.
>Duckworth its Masters of the Medium Award for her work in
>Lately she has been working on several big commissions, she
>said, and has been involved in discussions for a major
>Ms. Duckworth, born in Germany in 1919, moved to England in
>1936. "My father was Jewish, and I would not have been
>allowed to attend art school" in Germany, she said.
>She had chosen her career early, she said; as a sickly
>child she would sit in bed and draw. At school she was good
>at art, physical education and biology: the essentials for
>handling clay the way Ms. Duckworth does. She worked for
>years before she had studio assistants to mix the clay and
>load and unload the kilns.
>She recalled that when she applied to the Liverpool School
>of Art, she wanted to study drawing, painting and
>sculpture, but a school administrator insisted she must
>choose one medium.
>"Michelangelo did all three," she said, recalling her
>argument. "They thought I was crazy." She left without a
>certificate. Eventually Ms. Duckworth would define herself
>as a sculptor, first in wood and stone, later in metal and
>clay. She also worked for a puppet maker for two years,
>giving puppet shows at schools.
>"At the end I carved him two heads," she said. "They were a
>little bit on the heavy side."
>She also carved roses and ivy leaves for tombstones, she
>said, and later worked in a munitions factory. "I decided
>because I was a refugee, I ought to beat Hitler," she said.
>She was drawn to the work of Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi and
>Diego Rivera, as well as primitive work and ancient
>carvings. She also became acquainted with maverick potters
>and fellow refugees, Hans Coper, from Germany, and Lucie
>Rie, from Austria. Like them Ms. Duckworth set out to make
>ceramic art that was not practical in the least.
>In 1964 she accepted a one-year teaching appointment at the
>University of Chicago that stretched to 13 years. "I could
>have gone back to England, but working here is more
>challenging," she said. "You can do larger things."
>"In England you can work this high," she said, raising her
>hand a couple of feet over a table. "That's large. Here you
>have no limit."
>Her first mural commission tested that belief. When she
>learned that the university was about to commission work
>from a Canadian muralist, she asked to be considered,
>noting that she was already on campus.
>"Well, I had never made a mural," she said. "Then I got
>really nervous."
>The piece, "Earth, Water and Sky," completed in 1969,
>covers four walls of a room in the Geophysical Sciences
>Building, with porcelain clouds suspended from the ceiling.
>Before designing the clouds, she studied slides lent her by
>a meteorologist. "These were shapes and forms that
>influenced me," she said. "You would not think that it is a
>suitable subject for ceramics, but to me it is."
>It would be seven years before Ms. Duckworth would have
>another commission. She has since completed 24, including a
>15-foot bronze for Lewis and Clark College in Illinois.
>Although she hopes to see an exhibition of her life's work,
>"it will have to be called a retrospective of the last 40
>years," she said. "I have nothing physically to show of the
>early years. Ceramics are hard to move, expensive to pack
>and ship."
>Looking over photographs of her early pieces, she talked
>about them as if they were old friends. One photograph
>showed a row of cylindrical forms not typical of her work.
>"It was a design exercise I gave myself," she said.
>Ms. Duckworth walks with a slight limp, the result of a
>broken femur during a trip two years ago to the Antarctic,
>where she went to see the color of the ice. She also
>suffers from arthritis in her knees from years of kneeling
>on the concrete floors of her early studios. "I always tell
>students, don't do that," she said.
>The wall of her studio's glaze room bears recipes written
>in pencil. "You experiment with glazes the rest of your
>life," she said.
>Countless tubs and bags hold raw materials: kaolin, flint,
>feldspar, whiting. "It's ridiculous what you need," she
>When it comes to materials she has no particular favorites,
>but "there is something very seductive about porcelain,"
>she said. "There is a different seduction with stoneware.
>It can be massive. It can be big. It has a totally
>different character."
>"I like change," she said. "If I did all porcelain, like
>some people say I should, then I would get bored. The whole
>point of what I do is to do what is interesting. That's why
>I am still working."
>For information on advertising in e-mail newsletters
>or other creative advertising opportunities with The
>New York Times on the Web, please contact Alyson
>Racer at or visit our online media
>kit at
>For general information about, write to
>Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

Bacia Edelman Madison, Wisconsin