When Ruth Duckworth arrived in Chicago from London to teach at the University of Chicago’s Midway Studios in 1964, she planned to stay for a year. Instead, she lived in the city for nearly fifty years until her death in 2009—half her life. It is strange, then, that she is still primarily known as a “British studio potter” rather than an innovative Chicago sculptor who was deeply engaged in the natural world and responding to artistic developments in the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s.
This monographic exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art—the first since Duckworth’s 2005 retrospective—makes use of art historical advances of the last several decades to examine the artist’s Chicago work in a new light. Duckworth referred to herself not as a potter or ceramicist but as a sculptor with clay. The exhibition takes her at her word, foregrounding her sculptural production. It traces the influence of geomorphology and the nascent environmental movement in her work, beginning with her commission to create a complete environment of clay tiles in the vestibule of the newly built Hinds Geophysical Laboratory, moving through her monumental tile mural Clouds Over Lake Michigan and into her wall works in high relief, Mama Pots, and clay sculptures.
In addition to the exhibition, the university’s public art collection includes Duckworth’s masterpiece mural “Clouds Over Lake Michigan” now on permanent display at UChicago’s Joseph Regenstein Library. Learn how her love for nature and her relationship with pioneering UChicago geophysicists like meteorologist Prof. Tetsuya Fujita influenced her craft.