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Review: 'Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own'

I sometimes think that documentary films should be required viewing.

My fear is that too many people liken watching documentary films to eating vegetables when you’re a kid. They need to be reminded that sometimes when you finally connect with a well-prepared vegetable dish you discover that you really truly like it and wonder why you ever spent so much time avoiding it.

Like nutritious vegetables, documentaries can be good for you.

They can educate you, enlighten you and make you a better person all the while you’re being entertained.

Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own is a good example.

It’s a movie about a brilliant contemporary sculptor. Chances are, you’ve never seen her work.

But it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll never forget it after you do.

Her pieces are astonishing.

At a glance, they look like they were lifted from the landscape of Monument Valley where John Ford shot some of his iconic John Wayne westerns—tall, stratified towers that appear to have been carved out of the desert sand and mud, through eons of erosion by wind and water.

They seem familiar yet strange. At a glance, they seem to have been created by nature itself.

Their sheer size is imposing. They demand your attention. And they draw you in for closer inspection.

Words don’t do them justice.

It’s the stunning images that stop you in your tracks and force you to look.

Behind these remarkable pieces of art is the story of a remarkable woman, the daughter of an immigrant Polish family who moved to America following WWII.

In those days they were desparagingly known as “DPs”, which stands for Displaced Persons, people who barely survived the harsh conditions of the war in Europe, left with no homes or possessions.

Von Rydingsvard was the daughter of an cruelly abusive father who, as a young woman, managed to find her way to New York City where she found herself immersed in art.

She became a single mother raising her only daughter in a noisy Soho loft, while earning a living as a teacher, attending classes for a Master’s Degree at Columbia University and beginning her journey as an artist.

It’s a story of success in the face of adversity. Sadly, it raises the question of whether great art is too often born out of great suffering.

Her story is compelling. And inspirational.

Throughout her life, she exudes confidence and strength and a relentless, unstoppable obsession to create.

She transforms 4 x 4 planks of cedar into towering wonders inspired by nature itself.

The movie shows the process in her industrial sized studio where she collaborates with her dedicated team.

She is bold and fearless.

When commissioned to create a major new work cast in copper, she launches headlong into the massive project despite the fact that she’s never worked in that medium before. The results are, of course, awe-inspiring.

Into Her Own was produced, directed and photographed by Daniel Traub who does a superb job capturing the both artist and her art.

"What I find extraordinary about Ursula's work is that they are at once personal and intimate while also having a kind of impersonal, primal energy. I wanted to understand the person behind these forms. I was also particularly interested in the physical and intuitive nature of her process," said Traub.

There are insightful interviews with experts and colleagues as well as Ursula herself, exploring herself and her creative process in her own words.

We see the magnificent glory of her work and are afforded a glimpse into the world in which it was created.

The run time is a short 57 minutes.

It plays like the kind of tightly-produced, high-quality project that you might see on PBS. And it is a joy to watch.

About the only thing missing is the opportunity to reach out and touch the surface of Ursula’s creations, something that she encourages people to do.

She welcomes the chemistry that happens when the tiny amount of oil and acid from their fingertips comes into contact with the surface of sculptures, interacting with it and changing in evolutionary process of her exhibited public work, in a very tangible way.

After seeing this movie, you might be tempted to make a journey to one of her many installations, across the country and across the world, and do just that.


URSULA VON RYDINGSVARD: INTO HER OWN will be released on DVD and VOD, including iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo, September 29 in the U.S. and Canada.


About the filmmaker:

Daniel Traub is a New York-based filmmaker and photographer who has worked as a cinematographer on documentary films for PBS, among others. Traub's photographs have been shown internationally.

On making a documentary film about a famous artist, Traub said "I didn't really think in those terms when making the film but rather followed my curiosity about Ursula's work and her as a person."

"With regard to fame, Ursual is certainly recognized and revered in art circles but I don't think she's know beyond that. While the film is likely to appeal primarily to the art world, elements of her story--her courage and determination--will hopefully be inspiring to a broader audience as well."

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