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Ruth Duckworth

Biography to Display: 

1919Born Hamburg, Germany

2009Died Chicago, Illinois

1936Immigrated to England

1966Immigrated to the United States

EDUCATION

1936-1940Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, Liverpool School of Art, Liverpool, England

1955Ceramics, Hammersmith School of Art, the City and Guilds of London Art School, London, England

1956-1958Ceramic Art, Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, England

1982Honorary Doctorate, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois

2007Honorary Doctorate, College of Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan

PRIMARY WORK EXPERIENCE

1959-1964Faculty, Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, England

1964-1977Faculty, Department of Arts, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

1965Visiting Artist, Corsham School of Art, Corsham, Wiltshire, England

1969Summer Faculty, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

 

Ruth Duckworth is best known as a modernist sculptor who worked in stoneware and porcelain, creating hand-built, minimalist, abstract organic forms. She created a place for clay as a sculptural medium at a time when it was not a widely accepted. As her career developed her work became increasingly minimal. She is most well-known for the ultra-smooth, unglazed, white porcelain surfaces of her work; however, she occasionally added stains of ceramic oxides. Later in her life she began to cast forms in bronze.

In 1936, at the age of 16, Duckworth, barred with all Jews from attending university, left Germany for Liverpool, England. In England she moved through many jobs gaining a myriad of experiences. She carved wooden puppet heads,  grave stone, and made molds for Lucie Rie’s ceramic button business. 

At Rie’s studio, Duckworth met ceramist Hans Coper who was also involved with making buttons. She met sculptors Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore who encouraged her work. By the 1950s Duckworth was working in lead and bronze, welded and cast, as well as in wood.

In 1955 Rie suggested that Duckworth return to school to learn more about pottery. Duckworth first enrolled at the Hammersmith School of Art. At the time, Hammersmith's ceramic curriculum was committed to the philosophy of Bernard Leach, honoring the traditions of the potter’s wheel, clay and the vessel form.

Duckworth quickly moved to the progressive Central School where she was taught by Dora Billington to slip cast and work with porcelain. The Central School was home to Gilbert Harding-Green, Ian Auld, Gordon Baldwin, Gillian Lowndes, Bill Newland and Dan Arbeid, among others. In the early 1960s Duckworth had her first one woman show at Henry Rothschild’s Primavera Gallery and her work was seen and appreciated as a new and innovative approach to clay. In the early 1960s she set up her first studio and bought her first electric kiln using German government compensation for the denial of education in 1936. Duckworth became a master at coil building stoneware sculptural forms and during this period she began to experiment with porcelain.

In 1966 Duckworth moved to the United States to teach at the University of Chicago and continued there until her retirement in 1977. She received her first major architectural commission and created the monumental four-hundred-square-foot stoneware mural, Earth, Water and Sky (1967-1968) at the University's Geophysical Science Building. This was followed by Clouds Over Lake Michigan (1976) for German Dresner Bank (Chicago), now reinstalled in the Chicago Board of Options Exchange.

An interview with Ruth Duckworth conducted April 27, 2001 by Kenneth Trapp, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America is available at:
http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-ruth-duckworth-12764.

Public Collections

Public Collections to Display: 

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Buckingham County Museum, Buckinghamshire, England

City Museum, Bassano Del Grappa, Italy

Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California

Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, Canada

Houston Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, Texas

Inner London Education Committee Collection, London, England

Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art, Alfred University, Alfred, New York

J.S. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky

Kestner Museum, Hannover, Germany

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, California

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

Mills College, Oakland, California

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany

Museum für Zeitgenössische Keramische Kunst, Frechen, Germany

Museum für Modern Keramik, Deidesheim, Germany

Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Racine Art Museum, Racine, Wisconsin

Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri

Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum, Schloss Gottorf, Germany

Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C.

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Stuttgart Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Utah Museum of Art, Salt Lake City, Utah

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England

Windsor Castle, Windsor, England

Wins Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart, Germany

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

York Museums Trust, York, England

Bibliography

Bibliography to Display: 

Clark, Garth and Margie Hughto. A Century of Ceramics in the United States, 1878-1978. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton, 1979.

Clark, Garth and Cindy Strauss. Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics The Garth Clark & Mark Del Vecchio Collection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

Dietz, Ulysses Grant. Great Pots Contemporary Ceramics from Function to Fantasy. Madison, WI: Guild Publishing, 2003.

Donato, Debora Duez. Ruth Duckworth and Martyl: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture. State of Illinois Art Gallery, 1990.

Duckworth, Ruth. Ruth Duckworth at 80. New York, NY: Garth Clark Gallery, 1999.

Lauria, Jo and Tony Birks. Ruth Duckworth: Modernist Sculpture. London, England: Lund Humphries, 2005.

Levin, Elaine. The History of American Ceramics: From Pipkins and Bean Pots to Contemporary Forms, 1607 to the Present. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1988.

Lynn, Martha Drexler. Clay Today Contemporary Ceramists and Their Work A Catalogue of the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Collection at the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Los Angeles, CA: Chronicle Books, 1990.

 

CV or Resume: Click Here to Download

CV or Resume: Click Here to Download
Source: Elaine Levin Archive, University of Southern California

 

Typical Marks

Ruth Duckworth seldom signed her pieces, however occasionally she would carve an "R" into the foot as shown in the image below. The important identifier for her work is the five digit number added to the piece post firing. These numbers came into use in 1984 and contain the code for when the piece was made. In the example 19886 the last 2 digits indicate the piece was made in 1986. The first three identify it as the 198th piece made that year. Six or seven digit numbers were put into use with the fourth and fifth digits indicating the month therefore 198289 would have been the 198th piece made in February, 1989. See image below. (Phone conversation with Thea Burger, December 2014.)

1981
1986
2000
Wall Relief
Date: 1975
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Mixed Methods
Surface Technique: Unglazed
Margaret Pennington Collection
Photo: John Polak
Margaret Pennington Collection
Clouds Over Lake Michigan
Date: 1976
Form: Mural
Materials: Stoneware
Method: Hand Built
Surface Technique: Glaze
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California
Monumental Wall Sculpture
Date: 1981
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Hand Built
Surface Technique: Glaze
Courtesy of The Nevica Project
Courtesy of The Nevica Project
Garden Sculpture
Date: 1982
Materials: Stoneware
Method: Hand Built
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California, Collection Mr. and Mrs. A. Saks
Photo: TMP
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California, Collection Mr. and Mrs. A. Saks
Untitled
Date: 1986
Materials: Stoneware
Method: Hand Built
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California
Photo: Lisa Ebright
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California
Untitled
Date: 1986
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Mixed Methods
Surface Technique: Unglazed
Photo: Loren Maron
Photo: Loren Maron
Photo: Loren Maron
Untitled
Date: 1998
Form: Bowl
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Hand Built
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, gift of Theodore Cohen
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, gift of Theodore Cohen
Two Sculptures
Method: Hand Built
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California
Courtesy Elaine Levin Archive University of Southern California
Untitled
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Hand Built
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, gift of the James Renwick Alliance in honor of Kenneth R. Trapp
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, gift of the James Renwick Alliance in honor of Kenneth R. Trapp
Untitled
Form: Bowl
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Hand Built
Surface Technique: Glaze
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Luce Foundation Center, gift of Leatice and Melvin Eagle
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Luce Foundation Center, gift of Leatice and Melvin Eagle
Untitled
Materials: Porcelain
Method: Hand Built
Surface Technique: Glaze
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, Bequest of Samuel and Blanche M. Koffler
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, Bequest of Samuel and Blanche M. Koffler

Citation: "The Marks Project." Last modified June 24, 2018. http://www.themarksproject.org:443/marks/duckworth