Saturday, October 24, 2009

Homage To a Sculptor: Ruth Duckworth (Poem)

Homage To a Sculptor
Ruth Duckworth,  1919 - 2009

Defying the Nazis,
you lived,
making of a converted pickle factory
on the North Side of Chicago
a space where
hands and eyes and brain
could dance with your unconscious.

First to England
you fled,
Hamburg's life-denying streets
no place for a girl with a Jewish father
and modern art ideas.

You polished dies for casts for bullets
meant for many little Hitlers,
got married, had a solo show.

But the British, you later said,
preferred what (to you) was small,
and you needed to think beyond what
might be contained within outspread arms.

In America,
you could be as wide open
as your mind would allow.
There, yours did
big things with just a little.

You took from slides of clouds,
Mt. Fuji's topography, NASA photos,
and conjured and glazed a stoneware
Earth, Water, and Sky.

It hangs, still, a mural
on ceilings and walls
of Henry Hinds Laboratory for Geophysical Sciences,
400 square feet of imagination

University of Chicago students
learned you could teach them
a thing or two.
For 13 years, you did.

After, you stayed on,
and on the North Side
tended a courtyard garden
two hours daily.

Whenever you got sick of clay
you could always
water, dead-head,
turn soil, grow ideas
the way your masses of flowers
put down roots, grew shoots,
took a fancy.

You made Clouds Over Lake Michigan
and molded joy with breath-taking beauty
in bronze and stones and porcelains
fine as hard bone,
serene as lovers in bliss,
toned by earth elements.

You gave no names
to the forms and shapes
that flowed from kneading hands.

What you thought you made clear
didn't matter.

You insisted we have
our own ideas and fantasies
about cups and blades, little tabletop
heads, fins and circles,
the organic body parts of
abstracted figures walking around
inside your head.

Styles and trends not your own
came and went.
You stayed.
You weren't much
into concepts or theories, after all.
Just letting "it" happen
happened often enough
to keep you busy.

Even after acclaim came,
your hours in studio stayed long.
You could not repeat yourself,
not in large, not in small,
gifts that made you — and us —smile
for the sheer joy of parting lips.

By 86, you'd had
your retrospective — all the best
museums called —
and reigned supreme.
By 90, you'd put
your loft and workplace
up for sale,
your fired tiles and backsplash,
some 50 feet of windows,
a lakeview, all-inclusive.

Days later, you were dead.

God did not let you
finish with the flourish
you said you wanted done.
No matter.
In the story of your Creation
is a never-ending spiral
of what goes on,
keeps going on,
where God is thinking.

Copyright 2009 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

Artist Ruth Duckworth died on October 21, 2009.

Of interest:

* A video of Duckworth's Chicago home and workspace, now for sale:

* Images of Duckworth's art (slides):

* Transcript and Video of 2006 Interview with Duckworth:

* Obituary:,0,2021310.story

1 comment:

Glynn said...

I looked at the slide show at the University of Chicago link. Incredible.

Love this: "God did not let you/finish with the flourish/you said you wanted done./No matter."