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Ruth Duckworth, Modernist Sculptor
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Ruth Duckworth demonstrated a self-taught facility with clay from the beginning. She first sculpted, using brick clay, in Germany at the age of fourteen, and had reached a high level of proficiency even before she began her formal study of ceramics at art schools in London.

Duckworth had begun working first with stoneware clays, which are dense, coarse, and fire to varying shades of tan, grey, or red-brown. Stoneware can be rewarding, as it is a very plastic and forgiving material. Being curious by nature, she next wanted to investigate the very different properties of porcelain, which is lightweight, smooth, free of impurities, and intensely white or translucent when fired at high temperatures. Working with porcelain can be very challenging, since it is unresponsive and unforgiving. As her skills evolved along with her artistic daring, she set out to master both. Stoneware and porcelain offered Duckworth a vast range of possibilities, and she exploited each clay for its distinct look, feel, and sensibility.

To move from Duckworth's visceral, sturdy stoneware pots to her delicate, flowing porcelain vessels requires a perceptual shift. Though at first they seem polar opposites, careful study brings to light their shared characteristics. Both types of work bear the touch of the artist, who has left behind deliberate imprints so that they feel handmade and fresh rather than perfectly finished. Both rise organically from distinctive bases and are to some degree off-center, evoking the asymmetry and imperfection found in nature.

To this day Duckworth spends equal time working in stoneware and porcelain, choosing the material that best realizes her intentions. Occasionally she achieves a desired effect by combining both clays in one piece, emphasizing the triumph of artistic vision over conventional practice.

  Ruth photographed in front of one of her large sectional sculptures in her Pilsen studio, Chicago, c.1967.
  Ruth in her studio at the converted Chicago pickle factory, c.1988.
ruth, sitting

ruth, sitting