Reclaimed wood, color, and nostalgia come to life in Ruth Robinson’s folk art.
We’re drawn to the inviting smile of the African American painter standing in a cotton field. No, it isn’t a cliché, but a lady telling meaningful stories through her painting.
We’ve discovered more about this contemporary folk artist and the stories she tells.
Let’s dive in!
The Story of Ruth Robinson
Ruth Robinson grew up in rural South Alabama on a farm where her family was sharecroppers. It was 1952, and the families grew corn and cotton, raised chickens, and tended a garden for food. In addition, their only water came from a well.
Robinson started painting at age eight with an eye for drawing people and things. She used her room as her gallery space. Tragedy struck in the 1960s when the family lost their house to fire. Ruth lost all her artwork and her drive to paint.
Years passed. Robinson married and raised six children. She had an antique shop and became a teacher’s aide and substitute teacher. Volunteering at the local schools in their creative projects was another thing she loved.
When Robinson’s elderly parents became ill, she cared for them. To relieve the stress, she returned to the happiness of painting.
Ruth told the Alabama News Center, “I found that doing that, it helped me a whole lot,” she said. “I’ve been doing it ever since then. It was kind of like a gift – something that was just waiting to get started again.”
What Is Folk Art?
Ruth Robinson is a folk artist. A self-taught individual, she expresses the traditions she remembers from childhood. Folk art expresses cultural identity and conveys a community’s shared values.
Another aspect of folk art encompasses a range of media, including cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal, and whatever inspires the artist. Robinson paints with acrylics on canvas, wood, and found objects. Her frames and canvases are often reclaimed from old buildings, such as an old neighbor’s outhouse or a 150-year-old church.
What Inspires Ruth Robinson’s Art?
Ruth works from memories of her family and neighbors. As a result, the paintings are a part of her life that flows out through her creative efforts. In fact, she believes her art is a “God-given talent” and that her path to success was by divine intervention.
As she paints, the memories of life on the farm just flood out. The older adults her mother helped and the uncles who worked the fields are just a few of the happy things she remembers.
“Nothing gives me more pleasure than to bring them [people] back to life in my paintings. I hope that my art will share the love I have for them because it is straight from my heart.”
What Are Some of Ruth Robinson’s Art Pieces?
There’s depth and story in Robinson’s paintings. The frame may come from fallen slaves’ quarters, or the remnant debris washed up from a hurricane. Regardless, each piece ties back to a place and time in Ruth’s past.
The Night Pickers is a colorful scene of three slaves’ cabins with a cotton field and pickers behind them. The workers carry large sacks on their backs as they bend over, picking the cotton.
Robinson records history in this image. As she explains, enslaved people picked cotton during the day for their masters. They picked cotton at night to buy their freedom and aid their escape efforts.
Next Time Baptize Me Near the Mountain
Next Time Baptize Me Near the Mountain is acrylic on wood. The painting reveals a line of people in their Sunday best dressed up for a baptism. They watch as people dressed in white stand in a pool prepared for the sacrament in water. In the distance, there are three towering mountain peaks.
Ruth is known to reclaim wood, and we’re curious if this wooden canvas came from the 150-year-old church.
Daddy’s Fourth of July
Daddy’s Fourth of July is a bright and colorful image of a man driving an old tractor. It pulls a wagon stacked full of watermelons. The man goes through the field, curled and tangled with the fruits and their vines.
The sky is a bright yellow with orange and blue waves. They almost look like a flag across the horizon.
Where Can I See Ruth Robinson’s Art?
Robinson never intended to sell her art. Ruth’s mother encouraged her shortly before she passed. Robinson met a photographer who helped her manage her career. It led to her first showing in New York in 2007. There are several places where she now sells or displays her memories
Kentuck Art Center
Located in Northport, Alabama (just north of Tuscaloosa), is the Kentuck Art Center. Ruth donated Night Pickers to the center’s permanent collection.
Every fall, the center holds the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Robinson is often an attending artist with works for sale. Check the festival artist lineup to confirm her attendance.
Marcia Weber Art Objects
Located in Montgomery, Alabama, the Marcia Weber Art Objects buys and sells rare and unusual one-of-a-kind works of art created by self-taught artists. You can acquire Daddy’s Fourth of July and Next Time Baptize Me Near the Mountain from Robinson.
They also have My Uncle Bud Loved to Fesh. It’s a tribute and a happy memory of Ruth’s uncle. The picture is full of brightly colored fish, with a man relaxing on one of them near the top. She writes, “If he could have I think he would ride them fesh till they get tired.”
Stories That Touch Your Heart and Soul
We’re touched by the joy Ruth Robinson expresses in her artwork. We feel like we know the people and have a deeper understanding of their history. We feel strongly that true stories of the African American experience should be preserved.
Ruth thinks it’s funny that people in New York know her art while many in her small Grand Bay, Alabama, town don’t. We’re happy to help spread the word about this fantastic lady and her memories.
What’s your favorite Ruth Robinson painting? Tell us about it in the comments!
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!