In just under an hour, "Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own" manages to cover almost 80 years in the life of the vibrant sculptor whose work-intensive art draws directly from nature and is forged in almost mythological creations. Although director Daniel Traub has little time to dive very deeply, the documentary serves as a fascinating insight into an artist's work, inspirations and process.
Born in Germany in 1942, the daughter of an abusive Ukrainian father and a loving Polish mother, Von Rydingsvard spent five years in IDP camps before the large family immigrated to the working class in Plainview, Connecticut. As a young woman, she worked as a teacher, but ended up being a single mother in New York City in the 1970s, a particularly fertile place and time to be an artist.
This scenario is intrinsic to Von Rydingsvard's work. The almost all wood environment of the fields informed its use of wood as the main material (cedar is the favorite). A later visit to life in Poland and its forests suggests an even deeper connection. Her father's cruelty fueled her ambition and a shared work ethic (he used to keep two jobs at the factory) as she overcame a difficult start, obtained an MFA from Columbia and established herself in the art world.
Much of Von Rydingsvard's work is on a massive and primordial scale, requiring collaboration with his team of assistants who seem dedicated to his craft, even sharing family-style meals with his boss. (At an opportune time, the fact that Von Rydingsvard and his team often wear masks while working makes even the archival images look eerily contemporary.)
While listening to several people, including Von Rydingsvard's brother Stas Karoliszyn, his daughter Ursie, her second husband, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Paul Greengard (who died in 2019), fellow artists Judy Pfaff and Elka Krajewska, curators and artistic sponsors, the real strength of the film is that much of it is in the artist's own voice.
Traub (director of the 2014 documentary "The Barefoot Artist", by Lily Yeh) also serves as a cinematographer and was previously hired by Von Rydingsvard for a short film. Here, he allows his camera to carefully examine the work, especially in sequences that document a large-scale Princeton commission that witnesses the artist working with a new medium – hand beaten copper – with the help of metal manufacturer Richard Webber.
Be it harrowing materials, wielding a tool or stroking a finished work (she invariably uses feminine pronouns when referring to her pieces), Von Rydingsvard reveals his intimacy and tact, regardless of scale. This is a work you want to play and, despite being one of the less cinematic senses, "Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own" evokes this quality to an amazing degree.
"Ursula von Rydingsvard: in your own country"