Letter by Joanna Steichen for the opening of the Rudolph Drawing Exhibition


Below is a letter written by Joanna Steichen for the opening of an exhibition of Paul Rudolph’s drawings, from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

[Note: in transcribing this text, we have retained most of the grammar, spelling, capitalization, and construction.]


Joanna Steichen , CSW. BCD 

For the Opening of the Paul Rudolph Drawing Exhibition 9/18/97

I had the privilege of calling Paul Rudolph a friend, an extraordinarily kind and generous friend, for 37 years. We met when Paul invited my husband and his new bride - me - to lunch. It was Paul’s favorite lunch, chunky chicken salad in the Edwardian Room at the Plaza.

A few years later, I took a small apartment across the street from Paul on Beekman Place. There was a tiny dining room, seven by twelve feet. I papered the walls in red paisley fabric and lit the room dimly with candles. Paul poked his head in and whispered, “I'm not supposed to, but I love it.”

A few years after that, I bought an interesting bit of raw space down the street. By then, I was aware of what a renowned master of space Paul was. I called him and explained that I had these twenty-foot ceilings and a river view and a very limited budget. Did he know a young architect for whom this job would be an appropriate challenge? Paul answered, “I'll be right over!”

What a wonderful experience that was! And what a generous gift of his time and talent! With the comfortable assurance of the true genius who doesn't have to go around proving his worth, Paul was a joy to work with. There were no displays of temperament, no quarrels. For every problem, Paul came up with three or four brilliant solutions, clearly drawn. The hard part was choosing.

While Paul sometimes made lavish use of expensive, hi-tech materials, for my project, he took delight in devising wonderful lines and shapes out of the humblest ones, such as painted plywood. When I vetoed a low-budget, prefab spiral staircase because my dog would not use stairs with open risers, Paul sat down and drew a poem of a staircase in wood, a design that, when built, and built firm and solid, looked like the merest sketch of a flight of white stairs floating along a white wall.

Working with Paul was a great learning experience. In a few words, he could explain, with gentle but searing clarity, why something worked or didn’t work. Sometimes, after discussing a problem, he left it for me to solve. Like all great teachers, he opened the doors of his listeners’ imaginations so that they could go on and invent their own solutions.

When I visited Paul in the hospital in the last few months, he couldn’t speak with his voice, but those clear, bright blue eyes would open wide and flash their message, positive or negative. I remembered some lines from the New Testament: “In my Father’s house are many mansions”…………“I go to prepare a place for you.” And I remembered that Paul was a preacher’s son. I meant what I told him: If it turns out that there is a heaven, I want to be sure to get there so that I can see the heavenly mansion he designs.