Born Ruth Windmüller on April 10, 1919 in Hamburg, Germany, Ruth Duckworth took up drawing after a doctor recommended that she remain homebound to improve her health. She was the youngest of five children. Her oldest brother promised to watch over her for the rest of her life, but was later killed when his ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine. The daughter of a Lutheran mother and a Jewish father, she 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 learned stone carving. Using these skills, she launched her sculptural career and began specializing in tombstone carvings. When she applied for art school, she was asked if she wanted to focus on drawing, painting, or sculpting. She insisted that she wanted to study all of them; after all, Michelangelo did it.
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 soon started to produce more abstract works. 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 neighborhood 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. She had a hole in the floor of her second-floor living quarters, which allowed her to view works in progress in her studio and to envision how they would look on a wall. There she created the concepts for large bronze works for Eastern Illinois University, Lewis and Clark Community College and Northeastern Illinois University.
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. Ruth Duckworth’s artistic synthesis-combining aesthetic influences from many times and places with her unique contemporary vision-is most masterfully executed in her figural studies grounded in Cycladic formalism
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 of Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Taken from the Wikipedia page on Ruth Duckworth