On 18 October 2009, the widely acclaimed Modernist sculptor, Ruth Duckworth died in Chicago. She was 90. Born in Hamburg in 1919 to a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother, Ruth Windmuller left Germany for England in 1936. She studied in Liverpool and London and married Aidron Duckworth in 1949, ending in divorce.
Trained as a sculptor, she worked in stone, metal and wood. When she transitioned to clay, she worked it like the sculptor she was. Ms. Duckworth’s ceramic work did not meet the utilitarian ideals of the times, but she persisted anyway.
In 1964 Ms. Duckworth moved to Chicago and until 1977 remained a ceramics teacher at the University of Chicago. That year she was commissioned to fill the four walls of the entrance room of the University’s new Geophysical Science Building. Satellite images of earth and historic images of Mount Fuji inspired her „Earth, Water and Sky“. Porcelain clouds hang from the ceiling. Her most important large work is „Clouds Over Lake Michigan“ located in the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It mingles abstract and figurative elements in a depiction of the watershed of Lake Michigan set in an archeological fantasy complete with natural forms. Though not a self-promoter, local collectors became interested in her small, unglazed, bisque objects and tabletop porcelains, especially after Alice Westphal organized a show at her gallery – Exhibition A.
Though widely known in ceramic circles, Ruth Duckworth decided to stay in Chicago, eventually settling in a large home and studio. By the mid-1980s she had found her distinct identity and her works found their way into many museum collections culminating in 2005, when Ms. Duckworth was nationally celebrated with a career retrospective spanning 60 years of her work. To many very favorable reviews the exhibition opened in New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, traveled nationally and concluding with a large celebration in the Chicago Cultural Center.
Ruth Duckworth often said: „I try not to think. I try to just let it happen.“