Artist Charles Rudy, Native of York, Was Very Talented and Versatile
Charles Rudy working on Penn War Memorial
I really enjoyed researching Charles Rudy for my recent York Sunday News column. (See below for full column.) There is a sizable file on Rudy at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives. It includes correspondence about a late 1961 exhibit at the Historical Society of York County as well as clippings about his work from newspapers and magazines. The file also includes his donated personal papers and photos concerning his sculpture.
After reading though the file and doing some additional research online, I was very impressed with both what a nice person he was and how accomplished he was in sculpting just about any material. Just one example is his work at the State Museum. With the exception of the 18 ft. high William Penn statue, Rudy did many of the other sculpted pieces there,including the bronzes of Penn meeting with the Indians. A May 1962 York Dispatch article says that Rudy was to do 17 pieces for the new museum: 14 bronze, two cast aluminum and one in stone to measure 14 feet by 9 feet. The state commission took over two years to complete.
Another view of Penn War Memorial in Rudy’s Workshop
I will post more photos of Rudy’s sculptures in the future so you can see the variety in his work. The photos included here are of one of his best known pieces, the bronze War Memorial at the University of Pennsylvania.
York Native Charles Rudy Produced Many Lasting Works of Art
York County has produced, and is still producing, many artists of note, from folk artist Lewis Miller to contemporary artist Rob Evans. One that stands out in between is the York born and raised sculptor Charles Rudy (1904-1986). Published accounts and Rudy’s correspondence show him to have been a nice down-to-earth person as well as an extremely talented, highly acclaimed artist.
Rudy balanced a long career of teaching sculpture at leading art schools and completing important commissions with creating numerous pieces of prize-winning original sculpture. He brought a quantity of his work back home to York County at least twice, with shows at the Historical Society of York County and at the York Art Association.
Charles Rudy was the son of J. Horace Rudy and Marian Emig Rudy. The family lived on Linden Avenue in York, not far from J. Horace Rudy’s stained and leaded glass company. Charles worked for his father during high school and for a year after graduation from York High in 1923. He then studied for four years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and went on to study in Europe on two fellowships.
He and his wife, former Yorker Lorraine Swartz, lived in New York from 1931 to 1941 while he taught sculpture at Cooper Union. In 1936 he won a national competition to create a sculpture for the Bronx post office. His 14 foot high marble “Noah” still adorns the front of the building. Another monumental sculpture from that period was an imposing “Indian and Bear Cubs” in front of the Federal Building at the New York World’s Fair.
After completing those commissions, the Rudys were able to buy a farm in Bucks County with a 200-year-old house and a barn for his studio. He continued mixing sculpting with teaching, serving on the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for many years.
Rudy wanted to contribute to the effort during World War II, but he was too old to enlist. Instead he worked for a period of time welding noses of glider planes at a nearby Willow Grove factory. He collected little pieces of scrap metal from the process and fashioned them into exquisite little sculptures of animals and people. This endeavor rated a three page illustrated article in the December 23, 1943 issue of Life magazine. Some of these little figures were included in his 1960 Historical Society of York County show. His 1986 obituary mentions that some local family members still had some of them.
Rudy could work in many styles, from the realism of his bronze seated statue of Edgar Allen Poe in front of the Richmond state capitol to the more stylized, such as the figures on the ornamental gates at the Pennsylvania State Museum. Size was no problem, as seen in the steel and lead airplane scrap pieces of only a few inches to the 14 foot Noah and a granite frieze for the Lehigh County courthouse that measures 18 by 9 feet.
His materials were likewise varied. Models for bronzes would be fashioned with clay with the finished model made of plaster. He carved a wooden eagle for the Audubon shrine in Montgomery County. He chiseled stone from the softer limestone to very hard granite and marble. Some finished pieces were in terra cotta, and an ivory piece was even included in the 1960 York show.
Rudy’s works are included in many private and public collections. One of his most acclaimed smaller pieces was “The Letter,” a 1945 bronze portrait of wife Lorraine, inspired by a pensive moment as she sat reading the mail. One of the largest and most recognized is the 5,350 lb. bronze war memorial outside Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania. The memorial/flagpole base, made up of five fully sculpted seven-foot-tall figures signifies “Unity of Man and Mutual Tolerance.” It was commissioned by publisher Walter Annenberg and dedicated in November 1952.
Pieces of Rudy sculpture are in many public and private collections, both locally and throughout the country. Besides some of his professional correspondence, York County Heritage Trust has in its collections the plaster model for the brass bas relief medallions at the entrances to the Philadelphia to New Jersey Benjamin Franklin bridge. York County commissions included memorial tablets for Masonic Hall and Edgar Fahs Smith Junior High School.
One obituary, probably from a Philadelphia paper, says that Rudy supervised work on the Confederate memorial for four years in mid-1960s, traveling on an “almost weekly basis to climb 800-foot-high scaffolding to check and recalibrate progress of 30 sculptors as they cut huge figures of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson into the side of Stone Mountain, 16 miles east of Atlanta.”
Charles Rudy was a member of the Pennsylvania State Arts Commission from 1949 to 1972. Being the recipient of many awards for his own work, Rudy would undoubtedly be pleased that his home town is going to be hosting the Governor’s Awards for the Arts on April 8 with events in the streets of York, at the Valencia Ballroom, the York County Heritage Trust and the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, near where the young sculptor rented a fourth-floor studio over a hardware store.
Click here for previous post on Rudy’s inventive use of a sculpture.
Click here for Goggle Books online article from Life Magazine on Rudy’s wartime figures.
If anyone has any of these little figures, I would love to see them and perhaps photograph them for the YCHT Charles Rudy file.
Click here for more on Rudy’s sculptures of Noah and of Benjamin Franklin.
Click here for more on “The Letter” sculpture of Lorraine Rudy.