Ella Tulin; Sculptor Celebrated Feminism

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 3, 2006

Ella Tulin, 75, whose sculptures underscore the strength and beauty of women and are prized by collectors worldwide, died Jan. 27 at Suburban Hospital after a stroke. She lived in Bethesda.

Ms. Tulin emerged from obscurity in her forties to become a commercially successful artist whose sculptures were widely exhibited in galleries and museums and were in demand by private collectors.

Her works, often inspired by her feminist ideals, appeared in such divergent settings as the United Nations, galleries in London and Paris, and the Czech edition of Playboy magazine. From time to time, their erotic quality led to controversy.

Ms. Tulin's portrait bust of photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, which she made from life, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Her sculpture "Fully Empowered," a seven-foot work showing a woman reaching to the sky, was chosen as the centerpiece and program cover for an international women's conference at the United Nations in 2000. Other pieces were included in an affiliated exhibition.

"Ella Tulin is a world-class artist who melds urbanity, craft, wit and love in a substantial body of work that will greatly reward our most serious attention," David C. Levy, former president and director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, wrote in the catalogue for a 1992 exhibition of Ms. Tulin's art in Paris.

Her sculptures of women -- sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, or with men or children -- recall the earlier work of Henry Moore and Gaston Lachaise. They often contain exaggerated or elongated forms yet are firmly within the realist tradition.

In 1983, Washington Post critic Jo Ann Lewis praised Ms. Tulin's "special gift for capturing the telling posture."

"Her whole motivation was to empower women and show how they were rooted in the earth," said her daughter, Leah Tulin. "She wanted to show women in all their joy, all their power, all their beauty and all their strength. She had pride in everything about being a woman."

Ella Mae Wallitzky was born in Takoma Park and was passed from one foster home to another during a difficult childhood. She graduated from American University and was an elementary teacher in the D.C. public schools in the mid-1950s.

She took graduate courses in art and literature at American, then moved to England after her marriage in 1956 to study sculpture at the London Polytechnic Institute. Back in the Washington area by 1959, she furthered her studies at the Corcoran School of Art and in 1979 received a master's degree in art therapy from George Washington University.

Ms. Tulin had a studio in a converted garage at her home in Bethesda, where she conducted sculpture classes for many years. She also led art therapy sessions at retirement homes and prisons.

A strong-willed, charismatic woman with a wide circle of friends, she was active in antiwar protests and other social causes for much of her life. In 1961, she was a founding member of Women Strike for Peace, a movement that grew out of protests over nuclear testing.

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