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Renowned sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard, considered “in the front rank of contemporary American sculptors” by The New York Times, is exhibiting her works at two campus galleries as Grossman Artist-in-Residence. She also met with students and interacted with the public March 12-13.

A reception for von Rydingsvard, whose works are in the collections of museums such at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was held March 13 in the Williams Visual Arts Building. She gave a public lecture at the Williams Center for the Arts, followed by another reception. The exhibitions and events with the artist were free and open to the public.

Von Rydingsvard also shared her knowledge with students in the 20th Century Painting & Sculpture, Drawing II, Introduction to Art History, and Intermediate Sculpture classes. In addition, she spent two hours with students conducting honors theses projects and shared meals with art majors.

Both the Williams Center for the Arts Gallery and the Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman Gallery of the Williams Visual Arts Building are presenting a joint exhibition of von Rydingsvard’s work. The spectacular “Mama, your legs,” a large, mechanized sculpture of cedar, graphite, and steel completed by von Rydingsvard in 2000, isl being displayed at the Grossman Gallery through April 19.

The Williams Center gallery is exhibiting a selection of the artists’ cedar vessels and wall sculptures, which are remarkable for the delicate shapes and cuts she creates using her tool of choice, the circular saw. The William Center exhibit runs through April 19.

“Last year, when planning for an exhibition of work by Ursula von Rydingsvard, we realized this was an ideal opportunity for a joint exhibition between the Williams Center Art Gallery and the Williams Visual Arts Building’s new Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman Gallery,” note organizers in the joint exhibition catalog. “Together we could present a more comprehensive selection of her work, which the size limitations of either space alone would have ruled out.”

In “Mama, your legs,” which measures 10 feet high by 11 feet wide by 16 feet across, steel rods drop and lift cedar plugs into roughly formed bowls. The piece has seven rows, each with five cedar vessels. Above each vessel is a cedar plug that inserts within it.

“The overall arrangement resembles an array of large mechanized mortars and pestles,” explains Robert Mattison, Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Art History at Lafayette, in his essay for the exhibition catalog, which also includes an essay by Alastair Noble, assistant professor of art. “A nine-foot-tall metal armature surrounds the work. At the top of that armature are seven offset crankshafts, and metal rods hanging from each are attached to the wooden pestles. When set in motion by an electric motor, the turning crankshafts allow each pestle to strike individually the mortar below it. A hinge at the lower section of each rod permits the pestle to swing as it rises and descends, assuring that each strike is irregular.”

The work encompasses many of the central themes in von Rydingsvard’s art.

“These include the cyclical nature of life, restrained emotions and determination, the power of ritual and repetition, the passage of time, and the use of industrial devices to create a mythic sensibility,” Mattison explains. “More specifically, von Rydingsvard’s personal history plays a powerful role in her sculpture.”

Von Rydingsvard was born in 1942 in Germany during World War II to Polish and Ukrainian parents. She spent her childhood in refugee camps. Her family immigrated to the United States in 1950. She studied at the universities of New Hampshire (Durham), Miami, California-Berkeley, and Columbia.

While her work is essentially abstract, von Rydingsvard draws on her past to create forms that suggest human figures, landscape elements, household utensils, and farm implements. Since the mid-1970’s she has been working mainly with cedar, using a combination of carving and construction, adding layers and then removing them like a form of erosion.

“My love for wood is part of my history,” she commented last year. “I come from a long line of Polish peasant farmers, and they were surrounded with wood – wooden homes, wooden fences, domestic implements, wooden tools to work the land.”

Von Rydingsvard has proposed creating a new cedar and graphite cup that is 16 feet high and 9 feet wide with a hollow center.

The artist has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, including at Brooklyn Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Storm King Art Center, and Nelson Atkins Museum, among many others. Museums such as Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, and Detroit Institute of Arts have acquired her work, and a number of private collectors, as well as Microsoft Corporation, have commissioned outdoor pieces.

Grossman Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call the gallery at 330-5828.

Williams Center gallery hours are noon-5 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday; and 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and before public performances in the Williams Center, which is located at the intersection of Hamilton and High Streets on Lafayette’s main campus. For more information, call the gallery at 610-330-5361 or email

The Williams Center gallery is funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

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