John Ruhl always wanted to be an artist. Throughout his childhood, his parents—German immigrants who ran a shoe store—tried desperately to dissuade him from his calling. Upon his graduation from the NYC public school system, they insisted he accept an offer to work as a clerk in an insurance company—a job he loathed. While working, John began taking art classes at the Metropolitan Museum and, without informing his parents, he entered a piece of sculpture into a museum contest. When 16 year-old John won the $100 top prize (an amount of money his father couldn’t earn in a month), his parents were impressed and allowed their son to leave his job at the insurance company—and pursue his dream of living as an artist. Initially he worked as an assistant to other sculptors, including the accomplished Piccirilli Brothers, under whom John worked on the New York Public Library lions (on Fifth Avenue) and the Lincoln Memorial (in Washington, D.C.).
Much of Ruhl’s working life was spent sculpting for commercial metal casters like Kronheim & Oldenbusch, Armor Bronze, and J.B. Hirsch which made various decorative metal objects, especially bookends.
Let’s end our short parade of bookends with this wise owl, pictured above, quill poised in-claw. Sculpted by John Ruhl in the 1920’s, it is bronze clad and patinated with a rich dark finish. It bears Ruhl’s signature on the back of the book-like base and would make a handsome Father’s Day gift, indeed.
More Father’s Day gift ideas tomorrow.