Biographical / Historical
Ruth Duckworth (1919-2009) was a sculptor and ceramicist in Chicago, Illinois, known for abstract modernist forms that were heavily inspired by the natural world.
Duckworth was born Ruth Windmüller in Hamburg, Germany, as the youngest of five children. As a child, Duckworth was often sick and would draw in bed as a way to pass the time. It became evident that she had talent as an artist, but under the Nazi regime in Germany, Duckworth was unable to attend art school because her father was Jewish.
In 1936 she left Germany as a refugee to live in Liverpool, England, with her sister. She attended the Liverpool School of Art from 1936 to 1940. She then moved to Manchester where she began making puppets until she took work in a munitions factory to support the war effort. Around 1942, Duckworth moved to London with friends she had made at the factory. There she met and married artist Aidron Duckworth in 1949. She also became acquainted with other sculptors, including Lucie Rie and Henry Moore, who encouraged her to pursue sculpture.
Duckworth attended Hammersmith Art School, then taught at the Central School of Art and Craft from 1959 to 1964 before taking a teaching position at the University of Chicago in 1964. After feeling that her career had been slow to develop she enjoyed breakthroughs in the late 1960s and 1970s with the commissions Earth, Water, and Sky, for the University of Chicago Geophysical Science Building, and Clouds Over Lake Michigan for Dresdner Bank in Chicago. Duckworth and Aidron divorced in 1967.
In 1981 Duckworth met Thea Burger, while working on a commission for one of Burger's clients. The two realized they could both benefit from a working relationship where Burger worked as Duckworth's agent taking care of the business aspects of the sculptor's career while Duckworth focused solely on her artwork.
Burger organized Ruth Duckworth: Modernist Sculptor, a multifaceted retrospective of Duckworth's life and work, with curator Jo Lauria in 2005. A catalog that included written contributions by Tony Birks, Martin Puryear, and Jo Lauria and a short film titled, Ruth Duckworth: My Life in Clay, were created to accompany the retrospective. The exhibition opened in January 2005 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Over the course of two years the exhibition traveled to the Chicago Cultural Center, Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark University, Long Beach Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery.
Duckworth had intended to return to the United Kingdom later in life but continued living in her Chicago home and studio until she died in 2009.