For Ursula von Rydingsvard, the physically taxing and repetitive process of building her massive abstractions in wood is the wellspring for profound intellectual and emotional content. Using 4" x 4" beams of milled cedar as modules, the artist uses both carving and construction techniques—the wood is cut, shaped and "roughed up" with a circular saw, then stacked and glued in place. Notwithstanding this methodical execution, von Rydingsvard typically does not make sketches, allowing instead for her designs to grow organically as she improvises beam by beam, cut by cut. This intensity of labor and hands-on affinity for her tools and materials keep the artist psychically connected to what she calls her family's "agrarian roots" in Eastern Europe. In a final, unifying action all exposed surfaces are rubbed with graphite powder to lend a matte, somber tone to the wood. The restrained color recalls for Rydingsvard not only the soil itself, but also the spartan architecture and enforced self-discipline of the Nazi labor and refugee camps where she spent much of her childhood.
Ence pence, like most of von Rydingsvard's sculpture, elicits multiple associations. The sculpture is reminiscent of geological formations, ancient fortifications, or even a huddle of human figures, approachable yet mysterious. The grid-like interlocking of beams gives an underlying visual structure to the curving surfaces, which themselves invite the touch with their rough, furrowed textures.
Ursula von Rydingsvard was the 2008 recipient of the Rappaport Prize.