2322 Duncan Drive
Missoula, MT 59802
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Rudy Autio, 80, father, renowned artist and friend to many, died at home on Wednesday morning, June 20th, 2007, after two and a half years of treatment for leukemia. He made friends with many fellow patients and health care workers in the oncology ward at St. Patrick Hospital during his many visits there.
Rudy was born in Butte to Arne and Selma (Wayrynen) Autio in 1926, who both immigrated to America. His father worked in the mines and his mother cooked for a boarding house in Southern Cross, near Georgetown Lake. Finnish was his first language and he didn't learn English until he went to primary school. This was an advantage to him in later years when he visited Helsinki many times as a guest artist in the 1980s.
During World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy and for two years he was stationed in California, where he served as an aviation machinists' mate. Though he volunteered for sea duty, he was sent to Fallon, Nev., where he repaired airplane engines until the end of the war. Ever after, he had a special love for airplanes and later acquired a single-engine pilot's license.
In late 1940s, he attended Montana State College in Bozeman on the G.I. Bill, where he met his future wife, Lela Moniger, and his lifelong friend Peter Voulkos. Rudy later received his M.F.A from Washington State University in Pullman and joined Peter Voulkos at Western Montana Clay, a brickyard operated by Archie Bray, a commercial brickmaker who loved the arts. As first directors, both young men made bricks by day and ceramic art in the evenings. To the end of his life, Rudy supported the Archie Bray Foundation in just about every way possible from trustee to benefactor.
His best-known artworks are sculptural ceramic vessels, but he also built tile murals, sculptures in steel, concrete and clay, and painted and drew in a variety of media, even using a mason's trowel to draw his figures in clay.
In 1957, Rudy left the Archie Bray Foundation to start a ceramics program at the University of Montana in Missoula, which he headed for 28 years.
For decades, he was a magnate to students pursuing sculpture, some of whom later developed their own ceramic departments around the nation.
Rudy was commissioned to do a number of religious murals that grace churches in Montana including Great Falls, Anaconda, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula. Another 70-foot mural that celebrates the discovery of gold in Last Chance Gulch resides at Wells Fargo Bank in Helena.
Other murals include the Metals Bank and Trust in Butte, the stained glass windows for a chapel at Malstrom Air Force Base, Missoula Fire Station and St. Anthony's Church in Missoula, a mural for the Nippon Beauty Academy in Tokyo and a glass mosaic pillar at Sea-Tac airport in Seattle. In 1969, Rudy designed the bronze grizzly that sits in the UM Oval.
A NEA grant in 1980 enabled Rudy to work at the Arabia Clay Factory in Helsinki, Finland, where he became friends with a group of Finnish weavers. Commissioned to create a mural, Rudy hired these weaves to create a "rya." Enroute to Finland, Rudy's design was stolen while he napped, waiting for a plane. He flow on to Helsinki, bought some paper and pastels, and redrew his design, supplying the weavers with what he believed a fresh improvement upon the earlier design. This 20-foot-by-30-foot rya hangs in the UM Performing Arts building.
Rudy received the first Governor's Award in 1981, being named outstanding visual artist for the state of Montana and was named one of the "most important people in Montana history" by the Missoulian in 1999.
He was named a Regent's Master at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, given a gold medal by the American Crafts Council and recently given the Renwick's Master of the Medium Award (part of the Smithsonian Museum).
Apart from being a masterful draftsman and ceramist, he demonstrated a childlike curiosity for learning about the world in myriad ways. He used to say that the creative process, the medium, painting, clay or weaving, doesn't matter, all art is based on the strength of ideas. He encouraged success in his students and always noted their achievements. He was instrumental in bringing foreign students to the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, in exchange for sending American students to Korea, Japan and Europe.
In 1963, he and Lela took their four children across the country in a VW Beetle to New York City, and across the Atlantic by oceanliner to see great artworks of Italy. The kids still remember Dad teaching them rudimentary language lessons for their arrival. On return, he made sure that wonderful moments were noted, such as the heartfelt greetings to America by hundreds of Italian immigrants on the decks of the ship as it passed the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
He encouraged his children and grandchildren to be committed to their pursuits, and he fostered an environment of learning and creativity in the family home. One was always likely to find a grandchild or two making clay pots beside him in his studio, which were glazed and the fired in the same kiln as his work.
Enthusiastically, he introduced his family to skiing, camping and sailing. He could build anything, a cabin at Flathead Lake in 1965, fiberglass boats, the sauna that came later, rock walls and furniture. Many weekends were spent at Flathead Lake, where he learned to sail and taught his kids to "prepare to turn about", admonishing them that when he wore the skipper's cap he was the boss.
Surviving Rudy are his wife Lela; and four children Arne (MaryAnn), and engineering associate, Lisa a librarian and artists, Lar (Susan) a physician, and Chris (Aprille), a photographer; five grandchildren will also miss him greatly, Lolly, Malia, Will, Chloe and Phoebe.
Rudy's life long desire was to provide education for young people. Any donations to further this end should be sent to the UM Foundation, ceramics department, or to the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena.
Memorial services are to be held later this summer, in Missoula, 4 p.m. Saturday, July 21st, at the Montana Theater on the University of Montana campus, and at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 29th at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena.