Duckworth, Ruth

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Ruth Duckworth was born on April 10, 1919 in Hamburg (Germany) as Ruth Windmüller. She was the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Lutheran father (* we received information that her father was a Jewish laywer who was not allowed in Nazi Germany to continue his practise). Ruth left Germany to study at the Liverpool College of Art in 1936 as she could not study art in her home country under the restrictions imposed by Nazi Germany. She later studied at the Hammersmith School of Art and at the City and Guilds of London Art School, where she used the stone carving skills she learned there to decorate tombstones. When she applied for art school she was asked if she wanted to choose to focus on drawing, painting or sculpting and insisted that she wanted to study all of them, after all Michelangelo did all three. Inspired by an art exhibit of works from India, Duckworth studied ceramic art at the Central School of Arts and Crafts starting in 1956. While her early ceramic work was in traditional forms, she started to produce more abstract works that incorporated materials such as pebbles and rocks. Her work started to fall into a middle ground that wasn't the typical ceramics thrown on a wheel and fired in a kiln or the standard forms of sculpture that used metal, stone or wood. As described by ceramist Tony Franks, Duckworth's style of "Organic clay had arrived like a harvest festival, and would remain firmly in place well into the '70s". While ceramists such as Bernard Leach rejected her work, other artists in the UK started adopting her style of hand worked clay objects.

Joining the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1964 gave Duckworth the opportunity to create grand pieces that included swirls and cloud patterns. Her mural series Earth, Water and Sky (1967-68) was commissioned by the university for its Geophysical Sciences Building and included topographical designs based on satellite photographs with porcelain clouds overhead. Her 1976 work Clouds Over Lake Michigan is a figurative depiction of the Lake Michigan watershed and is on display at the Chicago Board Options Exchange Building. While at the University of Chicago, Duckworth had a studio in the Pilsen neighbourhood in the Lower West Side of Chicago.
She remained in Chicago after retiring from the university in 1977 and moved to a space in the Lakeview neighborhood on the city's North Side, in a former pickle plant. A retrospective of her work Ruth Duckworth: Modernist Sculptor opened in 2005 at New York City's Museum of Arts & Design before traveling to other museums across the country. In 2006, her works were featured at the Art Expo at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan.
There is a documentary about the late sculptor titled Ruth Duckworth: A Life in Clay. Duckworth died in Chicago at age 90 on October 18, 2009, at the Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care after a brief illness (souce: Wikipedia).

She was a modernist Anglo-American sculptor who specialized in ceramics. Her sculptures, as well as wall sculptures and monumental works, are mostly untitled. 

Ruth Duckworth and Holland

Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam organised an exhibition of her work in 1979. The curator was Mrs. Doris Kuyken. The pieces in the exhibition at that time also could be bought. Many collectors have bought from this exhibition. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen bought two large objects and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam a large bowl. Much later a leading gallery in contemporary ceramics asked Ruth for an exhibition in the Gallery. The reaction of Ruth was: "My work is too expensive for Holland".

Pictures: portrait around 1960 (source Tony Birks, Art of the Modern Potter); Portrait, 1988 (photo by James Prinz); portrait, 1990s (photo by James Prinz); portrait, 2000s (photo by Guy Nical); bulbsculpture, 1979 (private collection, the Netherlands). 

  • Kuyken-Schneider, D.U., Ruth Duckworth 1979, een appreciatie in de tijd (catalogue with the exhibition in Museum Boymans-van Beuningen 15.12.1979 - 3.2.1980.
  • Thormann, Olaf, Gefäss / Skulptur - Vessel / Sculpture; Keramik / Ceramics seit / since 1946 Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig, 2013.