Rudy Autio was born in October 1926 to Finnish immigrants in Butte, Montana. Autio attended Montana State University and Washington State University where he earned his MFA. Upon returning to Montana, Autio became one of the founding artists of the Archie Bray Foundation, an educational institution offering residencies for ceramic artists around the world. Known specifically for his ceramics, Autio’s curvy shapes, fluid lines, and brilliant use of color distinguish him as an exceptional artist. In 1957, Autio founded the ceramics program at the University of Montana. During his time teaching at the University, Autio received prominent awards including the Tiffany Award in Crafts in 1963, the American Society Art Award in 1978, and the National Endowment Grant in 1980, which allowed Autio to work at the Arabia Clay Factory in Helsinki, Finland. Autio, later commissioned to create an art piece for the new foyer of the University of Montana’s Performing Arts Building, asked weavers Anneli Hartikainen and Pirkko Sillfors of the Friends of Finnish Handicraft, for their help. Said Autio of the project, “I’m sure our Dean thought it would be terra cotta since I had done ceramic murals all over Montana. However, after I visited the Helsinki Weaver’s Studio, it occurred to me that a design executed as a ryijy (a thick soft wool wall hanging) would be a perfect contrast to the glass and brick in this building.”
Although Autio died in 2007, his legacy lives on in the community of Missoula and throughout the world. Autio’s artwork can be found among the permanent collections of the Carnegie Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Applied Arts Museum in Helsinki, and the National Museum in Stockholm, among many others. Former director Peter Helg of the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana, spoke highly of Autio: “Above and beyond his talent, he was a fabulous human being to student ceramicists all over the country, and to the community.” Aerie International, through the Rudy Autio Visual Arts Award, hopes to celebrate Autio’s artistic influence in the creativity of young artists today.