Monday, February 4, 2013

Family, Farm and Folk Art: Ruby C Williams @ Gallery 221

Ruby C. Williams, "The Men of Bealsville"

The Ruby C. Williams story begins in Bealsville, a town South of Plant City founded by black freed slaves in the 1860's. First called Howell's Creek, its name was changed to Bealsville in 1923, in honor of Alfred Beal who helped save several of the town's members from foreclosure. Ruby was born into that community.

Ruby C. Williams, "So Sweet"

Fast forward to 1967 in N.J. By then Ruby was a Baptist minister, and married to one. He left her and their kids, and she began to paint. She returned to Bealsville, started a farm, sold produce from a roadside stand, and kept ministering. Rodney Hardee and later Bud Lee discovered Ruby, and helped her work to be seen. She tells the story of how people would stop at her stand, and buy the signs she had made of strawberries. Now she paints the strawberries as paintings, of course.

She ascended in folk art circles to where her work is presently in the collection of the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum [Link]. Katherine Gibson, Director of HCC Dale Mabry's Gallery 221, is well-versed in Folk Art, has known Ruby C. Williams for a long time, and collected over two dozen of her works.

Ruby C. WIlliams, The Choir installation.

 Farming, family, community, people and animals comprise the major themes in the work shown in Gallery 221. The gallery has brought in a church pew and it sits across the "choir", an installation consisting of a group of several painted wooden cut-outs of people. This introduces the ministry angle in an oblique manner.

"The Choir", detail.

The figures are anything but generic, and layered two or three deep. Their titles describe their eccentricities, attitudes and behavior more than their names. In an odd way, this, and other paintings in the show are reminiscent of the typologies that emerged out of 1930's Germany. Botanical ones by Karl Blossfeldt, social/class by August Sander, and many others, though in a far less rigid manner.

Ruby C. Williams, "Bessie so Cool"

The interconnectedness of the various elements in Ruby's life is readily apparent. Animals have rich personas and are treated in the work in an egalitarian manner, like people.

Painting by Ruby C. Williams

The strong ties between the people, faith, history, animals, land, produce and place and the artist's powers of observation, heightened awareness and love are strongly represented.  There are also works about the energies that faith deals with. Some are shorter-than-haiku visual sermons.

Ruby C. Williams (l), Katherine Gibson, (r).

 This show is a premier showcase for this living cultural treasure in Hillsborough County. Congratulations to Ruby C. Williams, Katherine Gibson and her staff, and Student Government for helping fund this very good show.

--- Luis


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