Ruth Duckworth Biography (from the James Renwick Alliance)
It’s not tangential to begin a discussion of Ruth Duckworth (1919-2009) by noting that it has been a long journey that brought her to her current stature and repute. Born in Germany, Duckworth fled the specter of Nazism in the 1930’s and moved to England, where she began her training and career as an artist. In the 1960’s an opportunity to teach at the University of Chicago brought her to America, where she has earned her reputation as one of our nation’s leading ceramists. Her life has been a layering of these and many other experiences, and there are moments in looking at her work when their fissures and patterns seem to indicate geology of time, shards of being reflecting a powerful accretion of history and incident.
There may be something about ceramics itself that encourages such an interpretation of Duckworth’s work. In addition to the intense heat of the kiln, in her pieces one remembers clay’s origin in the actual stuff of earth and the ever-present feel of her fingers and hands molding and shaping and kneading and forming. Duckworth’s works often set smooth and open shapes against sharp taut lines, suggesting hard-won and experienced terrain places near crises and dissolution. There is dramatic poetry in this intense and directed forging of flux and substance.
Ruth Duckworth was born in 1919 in Hamburg, Germany. She lives and maintains her clay sculpture studio in Chicago, Illinois. After emigrating to England in 1936, she attended Liverpool School of Art (1936-1940), Hammersmith School of Art (1955), and Central School of Arts and Crafts, London (1956-1958), where she taught from 1959 to 1964. In 1964 she came to teach at the University of Chicago (1964-66, 1968-77), and has lived in the United States ever since. She has executed 24 major commissions, mainly ceramic sculpture or murals (1959 to present). She received an honorary doctorate from DePaul University in 1982 and became an American Craft Fellow in 1983.
Quotes of Ruth Duckworth:
“I think my work has changed over the years. It is less romantic and at times much harder, and I don’t mean its texture. I am still working because nothing else interests me quite that much and it stops me from being bored. It is still a challenge and I have to earn my living.”
“Can I, in my work, express what I feel about life? About being alive? About the earth and its creatures, its beauty and fragility? My life and work are relatively unimportant these days compared to the drama of a sick planet. The health of the planet and how to keep it intact is what matters most to me. The earth needs so much love and caring and not just from me. Can I express any of that in my work? I really don’t know.”
Major Collections (selected) Art Institute of Chicago; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Windsor Castle, England; Stuttgart Museum, Germany; National Museum of Modern Art, Japan; Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, The Netherlands, Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; National Museum of Scotland; Kestner Museum, Germany; Schleswig Holsteinisches Landesmuseum, Germany; Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Germany; City Museum, Bassano Del Grappo, Italy; Buckingham County Museum, England; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Utah; American Craft Museum , New York; Los Angeles County Art Museum, California; Evanston Public Library, Illinois; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Honors and Awards (selected) DePaul University, Honorary Doctorate Degree, Chicago, Illinois, 1982 National Museum of Women in the Arts, Lifetime Achievement Award, 1993 National Society of Arts and Letters, Gold Medal, Washington, DC 1996 American Craft Council, Gold Medal, Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, 1997 Ruth Duckworth Fund for Art Education and Scholarships at Lewis and Clark College, 1998 The Madigan Prize, Best Sculpture in the State of Illinois, 1999.