Ursula von Rydingsvard’s primary material—used in constructing both Luba and For Paul—is four-by-four lengths of cedar wood, a material that, as the artist has said, “it seems to be I’m able to speak through.” Von Rydingsvard stacks, glues, and cuts into these beams freehand with a circular saw—an intuitive process that the artist has likened to the freedom and creativity that many artists associate with the process of drawing. Luba is the first work on a large scale that von Rydingsvard created in solid cedar. For Paul, made nearly twenty years prior, is composed of an internal honeycomb pattern and sited so that its repeated openings can be seen from a landing above. For Paul is dedicated to von Rydingsvard’s husband.
Von Rydingsvard’s sculptures are large, but retain a sense of human scale. On one side of the main form of Luba, a delicate appendage extends down to the ground; von Rydingsvard has said that it is intended to resemble the arm of a mother cradling a baby. The lower portion of this arm, supporting its spindly reach, is made of bronze and marks the first time von Rydingsvard has combined bronze and cedar into a single work. Highlighting the handiwork and a physical, tangible connection to her sculpture, von Rydingsvard then rubbed graphite into areas of the surface of Luba, emphasizing the shadow and depth of the circular saw’s cuts.
Von Rydingsvard has described her background as influential within her practice. Born to Polish and Ukrainian peasant farmers, her early childhood was marked by the strain of living in eight different refugee camps over the course of five years in postwar Germany. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was still a small child. In form, process, and meaning, she sees her work as responsive to eastern European peasant traditions.