Rudy Autio

After college I went to graduate school in ceramics at the University of Montana to study with Rudy Autio.

Rudy was a profoundly gentle and positive man who was always encouraging to people who were making things. Maybe he was capable of harsh words, but I never heard any. Within a week of arriving, things happened that could have tried his patience. One of his students I was “helping” to make clay dropped a huge metal scoop into an operating clay mixer, and Rudy and I spent 5 hours taking every bolt out of the mixer to repair it.

He then made me a shop assistant to fire undergraduate kilns. Since I happened to have a pickup, he sent me to collect a load of split bricks he’d ordered from the local fireplace/brick supply yard to serve as kiln posts. He had ordered “Super Heat Duty” bricks, but they filled the order with low heat duty bricks. I was so inexperienced, I didn’t know to ask them to confirm it, and I didn’t know the difference. I stacked and loaded up the very large kiln and fired it. Those bricks he’d ordered as kiln shelf supports began to slump just as the glazes were maturing, and as we watched through the spy holes, the cones and shelves all sank out of sight!  We had to unload the kiln with a forklift: a single fused mass of bricks, shelves and glazed ware. I felt horrible but he said neither of these events were my fault, never got mad at me, and trusted me to keep doing the firings.

When people asked Rudy, “What are you making?” he invariably answered them, “Whatever happens.” It was not a put-off — he really meant it. He put his sensitivity to work and let the work evolve in front of him in a very immediate and non-precious way that was wonderful.

In his workshops around the country, he emphasized that clay work was not an exacting field, but a forgiving, expressive material. We all carefully weighed glazes, but sometimes Rudy would, in front of a crowd, toss together a scoop of this, 1/2 a scoop of that, etc., and make a glaze that would actually really work well to make his point. One night before he was leaving for a workshop I caught him weighing how many grams of different materials were in a bunch of different sized scoops. He just winked at me with a smile.

When Rudy went on sabatical and the legislature defunded his replacement, I left Montana. But I always loved the man and kept in touch with this deeply generous, humble soul.