National Museum of Women in the Arts
Ursula von Rydingsvard
July 26 1942 - present
Photograph of Ursula von Rydingsvard, 2003, by Richard Whittaker, courtesy of the photographer.
Place of Birth:
American, German
Phonetic Spelling:
UHR-suh-lah vahn (R-EYE)-dings-vahrd
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works, Sculpture, Installation Art
Artistic Role(s):
Craftsperson, Installation Artist, Sculptor, Woodworker
Minimalism, Other
Artist's Biography:
Ursula von Rydingsvard was born in Germany in 1942 during World War II. Her parents, Polish peasant farmers, worked as forced laborers on collective farms during her early years. The family spent seven years in post-war refugee and displaced-person camps in Germany where they endured constant hardships. Her work reflects these early experiences with her family. Monumental, rough-hewn cedar sculptures represent memories of structures, landscapes, and objects from her past.

In 1950, von Rydingsvard moved to the United States with her family. She began her formal education in art in 1960 and studied at the University of New Hampshire, University of Miami, University of California, Berkley, and graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Fine Arts in 1975.

In 1976, she began working with cedar and developed an interest in allowing her works to maintain a natural quality. Choosing to work with four by four cedar beams, as opposed to stumps or more massive blocks of wood, von Rydingsvard began laminating hundreds of manmade beams for her monumental sculptures. She then roughly carved the cedar, exposing the naturalness of her medium and the rigidity of the uniform beams. While much of her work was somewhat architectural, she dismissed the hard-edged, lifeless structures of modern aesthetic, preferring more organic forms. The artist's sculptures, although highly abstract, were drawn from her personal memories of the rough barracks, grey wool blankets, and hopelessness of life in refugee camps. She often darkened her looming sculptural forms with graphite, stain, and paint and allowed their surfaces to bear scratches and chisel marks that highlighted the vulnerability of the wood.

In her more recent work, von Rydingsvard incorporates animal gut, fabric, and moss with her cedar sculptures. These indoor works suggest an intimacy and familiarity with the objects they represent, including spoons, shovels, aprons, and landscapes. In addition to these works, she has created a number of monumental public sculptures. Her unique approach to woodcarving has earned her international attention and numerous awards. The artist lives and works in New York.

Other Occupation(s):
Instructor, Professor
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA (1973-1975) University of California, Berkley, CA, USA (1969-1970) University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA (1962-1965) University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA (1960-1962)
Related Visual Artists:
friend of Petah Coyne student of Ronald Bladen student of George Sugarman student of Jean Linder collaborated with Judy Pfaff
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Individual Artist's Grant, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, USA (1986-1987) Fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York, NY, USA (1983) Fullbright-Hays Travel Grant, US Department of Education, Washington, DC, USA (1975)
Earliest exhibition:
Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, FL, USA (1975)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Modern Love: Gifts to the Collection from Heather and Tony Podesta
Artist retrospective(s):
Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture, Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY, USA (1992) Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture, Madison Art Center, Madison, WI, USA (1998)
Apron, 1997