Image credit: Charles Rudy with Cornish Red Chicken, n.d., black-and-white photograph on paper, Charles Rudy Archival Collection. Gift of Lorraine Rudy. Courtesy of the James A. Michener Art Museum archives
Charles Rudy was born in 1904, in York, Pennsylvania, and worked in the southeastern district of the state as a sculptor until his death in 1986. He came from a family of artists; his father, J.Horace Rudy, was a master of stained glass and his grandfather was a stagecoach and carriage painter. Rudy apprenticed with his father from the time he was 8 years old, learning how to stain and fire glass by the time he was 9. He might have continued down the same path if he had not found a chunk of clay lying around the studio, picked it up, created an animal, and placed it in the kiln whereupon it exploded.
Upon graduation from high school, Rudy enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1925. He won a Cresson Traveling Fellowship to further his studies in Europe (1927 and 1928), where he paid particular attention to monumental and ornamental sculpture in relation to architecture. This influence carried over to his large public projects.
With the United States in the depths of the Depression in the 1930’s, Franklin Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of the New Deal. The goal was to create jobs and beautify public spaces. Rudy entered a competition to design sculpture for the Bronx Post Office. He won, together with fellow sculptor Harry Kreiss and painter Ben Shahn, and used the prize money to purchase the 68-acre farm and studio in Ottsville, PA.
Rudy’s winning work, Noah, sealed his reputation as a sculptor of monumental proportions. Public commissions began to pour in, other notable works include the Seaman’s Memorial in Marcus Hook, Delaware (1949); the University of Pennsylvania Memorial Flagpole at Franklin Field (1952), and the Confederate Memorial (now very controversial) at Stone Mountain, Georgia (1965). While he is known primarily as a sculptor of monumental works, Rudy also found success in smaller works of people, animals, and mythological figures. Smaller sculptures, such as Cornish Red Chicken, were more whimsical themes and virtues of his home, Southeast Pennsylvania.
Charles Rudy used many different materials, styles, and techniques; yet the common thread in his works is simplicity and strength. His work is said to be pensive, yet playful; controlled, yet spontaneous; serious, yet with zest. As Rudy himself said, “Art is an expression of man’s rebellion against chaos and falsehood. It is the best tool for creating a world that is understandable, ordered, and controlled—but at the same time spontaneous and free.”
Virtually Rudy: New Dimensions in Sculpture will be on view at the Michener Art Museum now through July 1, 2018. Nine sculptures by Charles Rudy from the Michener Art Museum’s permanent collection will be on display alongside three-dimensional representations made possible through a partnership with the Google Cultural Institute. For more information, see the blog post about 3D printing.
View Charles Rudy’s sculptures in 3D on Sketchfab.