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Lu Duble: Woodstock Sculptor of Emotional and Spiritual Realms

Updated: Jun 25

By Bruce Weber


Lu Duble, 1930s 

Alexander Archipenko Working

on Vase Woman, 1918

(Postcard pubilshed by Der Sturm)

Alexander Archipenko(1887-1964)

Standing Woman, 1925

Silver

Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Born into a family of painters and writers, Lucinda Duble (known as Lu) was born in Oxford, England in 1896. She came to the United States with her family as a child in 1903. After attending the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New York, she took art classes at the Art Students League, Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. Upon studying with Alexander Archipenko in the mid-1920s at his school in the city she came to the realization that the academic figures she was taught to construct were completely unrelated to the modern world in which she was living.

Lu Duble (1896-1970

Supplication, c. 1929

Glazed ceramic 

Dish Produced by Student at ARCO,

Archipenko Ceramics Factory, c. 1930     

Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)

Reclining Figure, 1921

Ceramic with black glaze 

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Joseph and Mary, c. 1930

Cement

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Archives


Archipenko hired Duble to work as his assistant and teacher, and she continued to be associated with him into the late 1920s, when her work was featured in an exhibition of ceramics at the school.(1) At this time the Ukrainian-born artist labored to establish a ceramic factory in the city which would provide a new medium for the execution of modern sculpture and make it possible for his students and assistants to commercialize their models by producing them in quantity. The ceramics that were produced varied from abstract compositions in ashtrays and vases, to highly stylized forms in statuettes. In the early 1930s, Duble created religious sculptures, which were a stylistic outgrowth of her activity as a ceramicist. Examples are known in the medium of plaster and cement.

House of Lu Duble- Rock City Road

Below Frank Swift Chase House

Detail of Wetterau Map of Artists Houses, 1926

Lu Duble’s Home and Studio,

100 Rock City Road

Woodstock Artists Association Archives

Unknown Photographer

Gwen Davies in Doorway of

Woodstock House, c. 1960

Schleicher Family Archive

Gwen Davies (1889-1976)

60-43, 1960

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

 

Duble began spending summers in Woodstock in about 1931. She and her second husband, the landscape architect Alfred Geiffert, Jr., resided near the corner of Rock City Road and the Glasco Turnpike. Duble’s sister, the painter Gwen Davies, lived in the house off the road and to the immediate east of hers. Davies was an equally fascinating artist, who was close in Woodstock to the artists Bradley Walker Tomlin and Frank London.


In 1931 Duble exhibited a head in terracotta at the Woodstock Artists Association. An art critic noted that Duble was among the new younger group of artists showing at the association, and remarked that her sculpture combined “an attractive clarity of form with elegance of line.”(2)

Bennett College, Millbrook, New York

Unknown Photographer

Ray Eames, c. 1935

Gelatin silver print

Unknown Photographer

Mercedes Matter, c. 1935

Gelatin silver print

 

Duble taught for many years at Bennett College in Millbrook, New York. She was the head of the sculpture department at this progressive liberal arts college for women, where art, music, dance and drama were regarded as seriously as traditional academic subjects. Among her students there were the painter Mercedes Matter, who later started the Studio School on West 8th Street in New York City, and the designer Ray Eames. Over the course of her career Duble also taught at Greenwich House and the Brearley and Dalton schools in the city, as well as the Montclair Museum of Art. At some time in the 1930s she studied at the painter Hans Hoffman’s school in Manhattan. Duble also studied with sculptor José de Creeft.

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Mannequins for Bergdorf Goodman

c. 1935

Photograph Woodstock Artists  Association Archives

 

During a period of financial difficulties in the mid-1930s, Duble made mannikins for the Bergdorf-Goodman Department Store in New York City. She used some of the money she made to pay a visit to Haiti.

Haiti in the 1930s

Unknown Photographer

Katherine Dunham, 1930s

Gelatin silver print

Maya Deren in film

Meshes of the Afternoon


During her stay in Haiti Duble became fascinated with the possibility of making sculptures of native dancers and other local subjects. In the 1930s the African American dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham also became interested in Haitian dance, and began studying local traditions, history and culture. The filmmaker Maya Deren developed similar interests during the course of the 1940s. In the 1950s, the Woodstock artist Zulma Steele spent considerable time in Haiti, where she owned property and traced her origins.

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Papa Gedè of the Dead, c. 1937

Terracotta (?)

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Archives

 Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Ti Kita of the Dead, c. 1937

Terracotta (?)

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Archives


On the strength of a few sculptures of Haitian subjects that Duble made on her return to New York she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and returned to the country. In her grant application she related how the people she encountered in Haiti were “unbelievably poor and untouched by time. They firmly believe in the power of charms for weather, crops, love and death. Their Ti Kita and Papa Gede are spirits who live in the head of a crocodile in the big swamp Los, emerging only when animals are sacrificed to them.”(3)

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Dancers Congo, c. 1939

Terracotta

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Archives

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Death of the White Cock, c. 1937

Terracotta

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Archives


Duble spent most of 1937 in Haiti studying native life.  She remarked that it was her growing up in a religious family and “interests in religions and what they mean to people [that] took me to Haiti . . . .”(4) The sculptor eventually created more than thirty pieces that range from likenesses of some of the people she encountered in the country, and to imaginative interpretations of ceremonial dances, mystic rituals, and sacrificial scenes.


The works include small scale portraits and figures of women with their hair coiffed and adorned with silver bangles, to monumental pieces dramatizing the rites of native voodoo. She executed the works in polychrome, hydrocal, terracotta, plaster and bronze. Duble’s Haitian pieces were critically praised for their impressionistic modeling and dramatic tension. Some critics found the pieces stark, deeply disturbing, and bereft of joy.

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Funeral Dance, c. 1938

Terracotta


During the course of World War II, a group of women purportedly visited a showing of Duble’s sculpture, and expressed how upset they were by the intense emotionalism of the work, and urged the artist to seek psychiatric help to rid herself of what they considered her “guilt complex.”(5) In response she explained that her art was her way of expressing the spiritual aspirations of the human race, and in 1952 commented: “We learn most from the hard things we live through and do something about. All through man’s history it has been the same. It is the same now, with numberless refugees and displaced persons passing through a modern vale of tears.”(6)

Dayton Daily News, February 1, 1940

 

Duble related the following about her experiences in Haiti: “What I really mean to portray are the gods of an ancient and primitive people. The native Haitians are the last remaining pure Africans in this hemisphere, and their religious customs, practices and superstitions come direct and unchanged from ancient Africa. From the minute I saw these people I knew I wanted to interpret them. . . . I had some very valuable help from the United States Marines stationed in Haiti.”(6) She further remarked: “I don’t want to be dominated by individual types; I try to catch the emotional, spiritual part of a people’s lives and then express it from memory. I want to know the experiences and feelings that went into the making of these . . . people before I try for the form.”(7) Haiti was the first independent black nation in the West. The nineteenth century African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglas was outspoken in his regard for the country as a pioneering model of early black self-determination. Dunham and African American painter and designer Lois Mallou Jones would buy property there.

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Calling the Loa, Haiti, c. 1938


In 1938, Duble’s sculpture Calling the Loa, Haiti won the Huntington Prize at the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. The following year she

received a second Guggenheim Fellowship.

Attributed to Dan Leyrer, photographer

Market. Uxmal, Yucatán. 

January or February 1930

J. Herndon Thomson Papers, Southeastern Architectural Archive,

Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Weeping Woman, 1950s

Terracotta

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum


Now Duble travelled to the Yucatan in Mexico to study ancient Aztec dance ceremonies. Early in her stay she felt that “women who wept and prayed somehow made sense. In fact, although I was trained to model pretty figures that meant little or nothing, I was convinced that what is merely physical can be negated or changed by the spiritual. Then one day I entered a church to pray. On the steps of the altar I saw what looked at first like a heap of old rags. But the rags pulled themselves together through a wonderful series of angular movements until they reached a praying position. I watched fascinated as a crippled man threw off the handicaps of his body. As he rose you were conscious not of his twisted limbs but of the light that shone in his face. After that I could never go back to the pretty figures.”(8) The sculptor once remarked that her own mental set was impacted by her invalid mother, who was constantly praying.(9)

Images from Woodstock Artists Association Archives


Duble went from village to village in the Yucatan usually traveling on donkey back. She sometimes disguised herself as an old Mexican woman so she could sit in churches at night watching the local rites of the penitential season. Duble modeled many of her works in glossy black clay which was known as barro de dolor or clay of sorrows because of its somber hue. For centuries the clay has been dug up in southern Mexico near Oaxaca, and has been used by Mexican potters for making black water jugs. It was worked hollow and fired in underground kilns. In Oaxaca, Duble also worked with red clay and cast stone.


Duble made a return trip to Mexico with a Fellowship from the Institute of International Education. She spent time at the Pre-Columbian Mayan site of Mayapan, where she studied local legends and mythology.

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Bride of Mayapan, c. 1941

Terracotta

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Archives

Lu Duble (1896-1970)

Les Demifacades – The Unfortunates,

c. 1946

Terracotta (?)  

Photograph Woodstock Artists Association Achives                    

Jacob Epstein (1880-1969(

Rima (Hudson Memorial,

Hyde Park, London), 1923

Stone

 

Art critics compared Duble’s Haitian and Mexican works to the sculpture of the American Jacob Epstein because of their similar rough-hewn and expressionist mode of realism. Duble’s sculptures are simultaneously exotic, haunting, playful, delicate, and exaggerated. Bodies sometimes are given lithe serpentine forms. They may exude a sense of calm and thoughtfulness, or convey a weird and sinister mood, as Duble sought to capture the emotional and spiritual essence of her experience creating the work.

Lu Duble, 1930s

 

Lu Duble died at her home in Woodstock in 1970. Late in life she related that she was envious of the freedom of the contemporary generation of artists (such as her sister Gwen) who were exploring abstraction, and regretted that her own training kept her from going far beyond “a certain starkness of form."(10)


(1) Lu Duble, "Brief Statement of My Background and Activities," Woodstock Artists Association and Museum.

(2) R.O.G.,“Younger Artists Hold Sway in Fourth Woodstock Show,” 1931. otherwise unidentified article, Woodstock Artists Association Archives)

(3) Duble is quoted in Mabel Greene, “Carves Haitian Negro Figues, Mrs. Lu Dubl Shows Her Sculptures Here,” New York Sun, February 21, 1939, otherwise unidentified articles, Woodstock Artists Association Archives.

(4) Duble is quoted in Dorothy Grafly, “Three Women Sculptors,” American Artist 50 (February 1952): 29.

(5) Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1990), p. 36.

(6) Duble is quoted in “Zombie Statues Put on Display,” Syracuse American, Sunday, March 12, 1939, p. 4.

(7) Duble is quoted in Greene.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Rubinstein, p. 365.

(10) Ibid., p. 366.



 

 

 

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