Ruth Duckworth

Written By: Ed Shears

Ruth Duckworth was a modernist sculptor who specialized in ceramics. Ruth worked in stoneware, porcelain, and bronze for over six decades. Ruth’s sculptures are mostly untitled. She is best known for Clouds over Lake Michigan, …

Ruth Duckworth was a modernist sculptor who specialized in ceramics. Ruth worked in stoneware, porcelain, and bronze for over six decades. Ruth’s sculptures are mostly untitled. She is best known for Clouds over Lake Michigan, a wall sculpture. Ruth Duckworth excelled at creating vessels and sculptures that were radically free-form, organic, and liberated from function.

Ruta Duckworth (born April 10, 1919 – October 18, 2009) was a modernist sculptor best known for her ceramic sculptures. She worked in stoneware, porcelain, and bronze, among other materials. The majority of her sculptures are untitled. Clouds over Lake Michigan, a wall sculpture by her, is her most well-known work.

She is widely regarded as one of the most influential and innovative modernist sculptors of the twentieth century. Even though she began her professional life in Liverpool and London by dabbling in stone and wood carving, as well as metal casting, she eventually settled on ceramics in the mid-1950s and hasn’t looked back since.

Is Ruth Duckworth Still Alive?

No. Deceased (1919–2009)

What Was Ruth Duckworth Known For?

Ruth Duckworth was a British sculptor who was most known for her smooth ceramic works with abstract forms taken from nature. She was born in the United Kingdom and died in the United States. Duckworth draws most of her inspiration for her sculptures from early Bronze Age Cycladic sculptures. Her works are characterized by smooth and elongated shapes, with subtle features that suggest the face and limbs.

How Old Was Ruth Duckworth When She Came To The United States?

Professor Duckworth, a native of Germany who relocated to England when she was 17 years old, first arrived in the United States in 1964 to teach at the University of Chicago. Many of her large-scale paintings and sculptures adorned lobbies, airport terminals, and other public venues, as well as private residences and businesses.

What Inspired Ruth Duckworth?

After being inspired by an exhibition of Indian art, Duckworth began studying ceramics at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1956, where she graduated in 1959. Her work began to straddle the line between traditional ceramics thrown on a wheel and fired in a kiln and traditional sculptures made of metal, stone, or wood. She began to explore a middle ground between these two extremes.

Where Did Ruth Duckworth Go To School?

  • Central School of Art and Design
  • Central Saint Martins
  • Liverpool College of Art

What Ruth Duckworth Sculpture Is Now A Permanent Sculpture At The University Of Chicago?

Duckworth’s first major commission sculpture, Earth, Water, Sky, persuaded her to stay in Chicago, where she resided until her death in 2009.

Ruth Duckworth’s Education

On April 10, 1919, in Hamburg, Germany, Ruth Duckworth was born Ruth Windmüller, who later became known as Ruth Duckworth. A doctor had recommended that she remain at home to maintain her health, which she did. She grew up as the youngest of five siblings.

Her eldest brother had sworn to look for her for the rest of his life, but he was later killed when his ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine during World War II.

She was the daughter of Ellen, a Lutheran, and Edgar, a Jewish lawyer, and she left Germany in 1936 to study art at the Liverpool College of Art since she was unable to study art in her own country due to Nazi Germany’s prohibitions on artistic expression.

Later, she went on to study at the Hammersmith School of Art and the City and Guilds of London Art School, where she learned stone carving, as well as other disciplines.

She used these abilities to establish her sculptural career, which she focused on tombstone carvings for the next several years. When she applied to art school, she was asked if she wanted to concentrate on drawing, painting, or sculpting.

She chose to concentrate on drawing. Insisting that she wished to study each and every one of them; after all, she reasoned, Michelangelo had done it himself.

Ruth Duckworth married the British artist Aidron Duckworth in 1949, and the couple later moved to the United States in 1964, where Ruth taught at the University of Chicago’s Midway Studios and Aidron served as a visiting professor of sculpture at the University of Illinois. Ruth and Aidron had two children. In 1967, the couple decided to separate.

Education Overview

  • 1919: Born Hamburg, Germany
  • 1936 – 1940: Liverpool School of Art England
  • 1955: Hammersmith School of Art
  • 1956 – 1958: Central School of Arts and Crafts London, England
  • 1982: Honorary Doctorate, DePaul University Chicago, IL
  • 2007: Honorary Doctorate Degree, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Ruth Duckworth’s Career

Her ability to work with clay prompted her to explore stoneware and porcelain, where she created containers and sculptures that were radically freeform, organic, and free of functional constraints. Most importantly, she established that clay could be used as a viable medium for sculptural expressions.

After being inspired by an exhibition of Indian art, Duckworth began studying ceramics at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1956, where she graduated in 1959. While her early ceramic work was based on traditional forms, she quickly began to experiment with more abstract compositions.

Her work began to straddle the line between traditional ceramics thrown on a wheel and burnt in a kiln and traditional sculptures made of metal, stone, or wood. She began to explore a middle ground between these two extremes. In the words of ceramicist Tony Franks, Duckworth’s style of “Organic clay” “had arrived like a harvest celebration, and would remain firmly in place long into the 1970s.” While some ceramicists, such as Bernard Leach, were critical of her work, other artists in the United Kingdom began to emulate her technique of hand-built clay sculptures.

She described porcelain ceramic in the following terms: “This is a material that is extremely temperamental. It’s something I’m continuously battling. It wants to lie down, but you want it to get up and walk around. I’m going to have to force it to do something it doesn’t want to do. However, there is no other material that can portray both fragility and strength as successfully as leather.”

Duckworth got a position as a teaching assistant at the University of Chicago’s Midway Studios in 1964. It was there that she spent the next decade before deciding to make the United States her permanent home, which was her third country of residence. Ms. Duckworth has remained in Chicago since she retired from teaching, where she has been based since the 1980s in a former pickle factory (pickle plant) on the city’s north side. She has exhibited internationally around the United States and Europe.

It was for the Geophysical Sciences Building that she created her mural series Earth, Water, and Sky (1967–68), which consisted of topographical motifs based on satellite pictures with porcelain clouds hovering over them. It is on display at the Chicago Board Options Exchange Building, where her 240-square-foot artwork Clouds Over Lake Michigan (1976) depicts a figurative representation of the Lake Michigan watershed.

Duckworth maintained a studio in the Pilsen district on Chicago’s Lower West Side while a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

When she retired from the university in 1977, she remained in Chicago, settling in a facility in the Lakeview area on the city’s North Side that had formerly served as a pickle factory. In her second-story living quarters, she had a hole cut out of the floor that allowed her to see works in progress in her studio and imagine how they might look on a wall.

During her time at Eastern Illinois University, she developed plans for big bronze works for the schools of Lewis and Clark Community College and Northeastern Illinois University.

Ruth Duckworth’s Style

Duckworth has been dubbed a “alchemist of abstraction” for his prodigious corpus of work in ceramics, stoneware, and bronze, which is boundary-crossing in its material innovation and visually appealing in its austere refinement of form.

Duckworth’s work is held in private collections worldwide. Both the stylized modernisms of Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, and Isamu Noguchi, as well as ancient Egyptian, Mesoamerican, and Cycladic art, have impacted her smooth forms.

Duckworth’s studio contained what she referred to as her “play table,” where she would begin each day by sanding the components of abstracted figures to the desired translucency on the surface of the wood.

Duckworth’s sculpture, which was given to the Phillips, is a one-of-a-kind piece made up of two “blades.” A sensation of poised interaction between the two similar, yet dissimilar slab-like forms is created by mounting them vertically on a base, with one slightly in front of the other. This is accentuated further by the shadow between the two active linear elements.

Duckworth approached clay as a sculptor rather than as a potter, and this approach resulted in work that expertly extends the aesthetics of modernism into the twenty-first century.

Ruth Duckworth’s Legacy

Duckworth passed away on October 19, 2009, in Chicago, Illinois, at the Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care following a brief illness. He was 90 years old.

Ruth Duckworth: Modernist Sculptor was a retrospective of her work that premiered in 2005 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City before touring other museums across the country.

Her artworks were on display at the Art Expo at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan in 2006, and she has received numerous awards. Her art is now on display in museums around the world, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where she was born.

The Duckworth sculpture, which was recently donated to The Phillips Collection, is an unglazed porcelain tabletop work created in 1989 by artist David Duckworth. It is the museum’s first ever acquisition of a work by this groundbreaking modernist sculptor.

Ruth Duckworth: A Life in Clay, a documentary on the late sculptor, is currently available on Netflix. Figure studies based on Cycladic formalism are the most beautifully performed examples of Ruth Duckworth’s creative synthesis, combining aesthetic inspirations from many times and locations with her distinctive current vision, which is most clear in her figural studies.

Galleries and Museums

Galleries: Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Buckingham county Museum, Kestner Museum, Philadelphia Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Utah Museum, Stuttgart Museum, Metropolitan Museum, city Museum, Illinois Art Gallery, Art Institute, American Ceramics, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles County Art Museum, Los Angeles Count Museum, Richard Serra, Ken Price, Jonas Wood, Shio Kusaka, Susumu Kamijo, Peter Voulkos, Chuck Close, Tara Donovan, Richard DeVore, Ken Ferguson, Michael Lucero, Rudy Autio, Peregrine Honig, Beth Cavener, Viola Frey, The Hass Brothers, Jack Troy, Zach Tate, Andy Shaw, Tatsuzo Shimaoka, Jeff Shapiro, Ted Saupe, Tim Rowan, Justin Rothshank, Brian Rochefort, David Reagan, Jeff Oestreich, Richard Notkin, Doug Casebeer, Priscilla Mouritzen, Matthew Metz, Kirk Mangus, Les Lawrence, Lucien Koonce, Randy Johnston, Doug Jeppesen, Asato Ikeda, Mitch Iburg, Emily Beck Yong, Bryan Hopkins, Jason Hess, Perry Haas, Kenyon Hansen, Shoji Hamada, Josh DeWeese, Sam Chung, Lisa Hammond, Jason Hess, Warren MacKenzie, Akio Takamori, Theaster Gates, Ryan Mitchell, Chris Gustin, Jun Kaneko, Ryoji Koie, David Shaner, Trey Hill, Richard Tuttle, Kensuke Yamada, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Michael Simon, Ann Hamilton, Wes Mills, Sally Mann, Cy Twombly, Don Reitz, Akira Satake, Kirk Mangus, Adrian Arleo, Daniel Brian Evans, David Gilhooly, Brad Miller, Judy Moonelis, Colin Pearson, Paul Soldner, Toshiko Takaezu, Kathy Butterly, Nancy Charak, Virginia Scotchie, Dana DeAno, Stephen De Staebler, Anna Hepler, Sergei Isupov, Marcie Paper, Darrell Roberts, Kerri Rosenstein, Kiki Smith, Neha Vedpathak, Jay Strommen, Aaron Scythe, Virginia Scotchie, Zac Spates, Robert Sperry, James Makins, Josef Albers, Barbara Bloom, Richard Diebenkorn, Larry Bell, Cornelia Hediger, Robert Motherwell, Alex Prager, Dan Anderson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Toru Ichikawa, Gerit Grimm, Ursula Morley Price, Philip Cornelius, Robert Fornell, Wayne Higby, Furutani Michio, Mary Rogers, Kurt Weiser, Mihara Ken, Kanzaki Shiho, Eugene Smith, Michael Corney, Tim Roda, Magdalena & Michael Frimkess, Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, John Baldessari, Yoichi Ohira, Mary Anne ”Toots” Zynsky, Kerry James Marshall, Chris Antemann, David LaChapelle, Takashi Murakami, John Glick, Robert Arneson, Alexander Calder, Julian Opie, Michelle Grabner, Sunkoo Yuh, Sandy Skoglund, David Hockney, Purvis Young, Robert Mapplethorpe, Rise Nagin, Nick Cave, Satoru Hoshino, Tip Toland, Pablo Picasso, Charles Arnoldi, Ralph Bacerra, John Balistreri, Judy Chicago, Sam Gilliam, James Castle, Suzuki Goro, Hiroyuki Tomita, Tom Friedman, Nick Weddell, Ben Beres, Scott Parody, Marlon Mullen, Elliott Kayser, Sunkoo Yuh, Mose Tolliver, Ron Negle, and others.

Contemporary Art – Today’s art, created in the latter half of the 20th century, or the 21st century. Contemporary artists work in a world that has a global impact, is culturally diverse and technologically progressing. Contemporary art refers to art created in the second half of the twentieth century or the first decade of the twenty-first century. Contemporary artists live and work in a world that is impacted by the global community, culturally varied, and technologically advanced.

Modern Art – Generally speaking, modern art refers to artistic work created during the period roughly between the 1860s and the 1970s, and it refers to the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that time period. The term is typically connected with art in which the conventions of the past have been discarded in the name of experimentation and a spirit of exploration.

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