About the Artist

Email: joan [dot] rudd [at] comcast [dot] net

Since 2003, Joan has created an entirely new body of figurative work in carved clay, fired into "terra cotta", and occasionally painted with thin layers of paint or cast into bronze. This work shares an appealing blockiness and solidity, as well as an unusual blending with language and culture. By referencing Yiddish poems, sayings, and prayers for the themes and titles, Joan's work offers a window into a thousand year old culture that was almost eradicated in the last century. Our modern shared American civilization is enriched by this exposure and by the re-establishment of some of what was lost. (Gary Faigin juried work of hers into shows in 2004  & 2011.)

Carving in clay lends the work an air of carved wood in terms of forms, and begins to evoke the highly sophisticated adopted folk art style of Elie Nadelman (1882-1946). The direction Joan is following with works in progress and future work planned is to take up where Nadelman left off in terms of abstracting the human form with simplicity and with exuberence. Joan's own creed has always been: "economy, vitality, and clarity" of form. However, elegance is less important than charm ("kheyn") in her work, and economy more important than realism. She choses to depict connection, affection, and solidarity among her sculpted figures.

Nice things assorted people said to Joan at the recent Port Townsend opening which included her sculpture called "Di tfile di shtile" (The quiet prayer).

It has so much positive emotion.
I like the blockiness, like a wood carving.
So much emotion. Compassion depicted. That is really hard to do and really rare.
Not finicky. 
People are "engaged" with each other. Connected.
It's nice to see your family (gesturing at work).
Like people who have been married for a long, long time.
Communicate by gesture, by propinquity.
Nice vibe. People are really together.
Like that it is not perfect. All the little imperfections of life.

Joan’s work mixes references to art history, cultural history, and contemporary life. These include ancient Egyptian sculpture, cubism, the mid-20th century Elie Nadelman, and modern Japanese figures carved and painted in wood. Her knowledge of the physical processes of sculpting: clay modeling, mold making, casting, fabrication, and carving all contribute to re-invigorate her art as she sets herself new challenge after challenge. There is a respect for materials in how she keeps her work surfaces and cares for her tools. She has long held stated goals of “economy, vitality, and clarity”, and since 2003 has wanted to learn to carve as well as she can draw. Her calligraphic line quality is particularly evident in the incised work in clay reliefs. Exploring new techniques and materials only adds to her base.


Joan’s images come from many sources, particularly from observing people in ordinary “poses” such as play or reading. She makes sketches on paper and in clay, and holds onto ideas for what are sometimes long periods of incubation. Associating a pose with a fragment of song or poem for a title allows for a longer period of rumination. When building a sculpture up, she uses internal ribs to grow the forms to their final volume. When carving, she uses external curves to define and balance the mass. She makes use of templates, carbon paper, Xeroxing, pointing and piercing to fix or to enlarge contours. She prefers to measure distance(s) by eye, and can enlarge by eye from a small maquette to a larger one without mechanical measurements. She changes the height and orientation of the sculpture stand frequently to change her viewpoint, and takes photographs of each stage. This has facilitated learning when to stop working to avoid losing the essence of the abstraction. She uses symmetry in order to choose where to deviate from symmetry, and confer more liveliness. She keeps a written journal of her goals, questions, and notes on how things are solved.  She works clay with a limited number of simple tools and knives, including a prized wooden “crooked knife” she found in a Parisian art supply store to complement her standard linoleum cutter. This shape of knife is sometimes still used in the NW by Native carvers.

Joan usually works on at least three sculptural projects at a time: one almost finished, one midway, and one just begun. This approach helps her to “finish” things and also to keep some excitement about starting something new. The surfaces range from smooth to rough,  plain to soft colors, reflective to non reflective.

In order to understand how Joan works, it is necessary to grasp the amount of planning, preparation, and simple labor involved in moving and manipulating her materials. The original choices to work in larger amounts of heavy clay and masonry materials necessitated an overhead hoist, and a system of wheeled sculpture stands and stools. She likens this kind of necessary planning to cooking on a limited number of burners. The incubation of ideas is yet a different kind of process, often spanning several years while searching out the various elements. Joan’s productivity in the studio and at home wastes little time, but is often composed of many, many patient steps. 


Rudd's intention to enrich everyday life by means of art is evident in her designs for public murals at bus stops, for sculpture and sculpture gardens, and for benches to sit on in them.

Joan Rudd was born in New York City and moved on her own to Portland, Oregon at age 17 for college followed by art school. Her interdisciplinary and intercultural approach was much influenced by her upbringing among European Jewish refugees and by family trips to France and Italy as a young girl. She decided to be an artist by age 10 when she first saw ancient Greco-Roman figurative sculpture on the island of Capri. Equally important was her encounter with Italic calligraphy, Chinese brush painting, and Japanese inspired ceramics after relocating to the Northwest. 

Joan's drawings and sculptures have been purchased by private collectors in Chicago, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.


Joan studied first with master calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds, who made no distinction between fine and applied art, nor between art, spirituality, and everyday life. She continued her art education with Fred Littman, a European classical sculptor, and with Manuel Izquierdo, a modernist sculptor who sculpted using only traditional methods. After moving to Seattle in 1988, Joan admired the public sculpture of Rich Beyer and of Phillip Levine, and arranged to work briefly in each of their studios.


Joan's maternal grandfather manufactured noodles in Paris in the 1920's, but he became bored and put all his capital into molds for casting portrait heads of the future Edward the VIII, who was to be the King of England. When Edward married Wallace Simpson and abdicated the throne, there was no coronation to commemorate and no forthcoming tourists, so Grandpa Weinberg went back to running the noodle factory. Joan believes her work in clay at the wedging table is but an extension of the noodle board: mix, roll out, cut up. 


Joan's choice of titles and using the Yiddish language to express them is based on a growing admiration for the sayings of her "folk" heritage.  The wry humor and boundless wisdom of Yiddish proverbs and songs is what sustains her both in her outlook on life and in her work. The influence of a culture which can cry and laugh all at the same time cannot be underestimated.

1988                                                                                                1995

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