Ruby Williams, often known simply as "Miss Ruby" is an American folk artist from Bealsville, Florida. She is known for producing bright paintings in bold colors, but she is perhaps equally beloved for her determined disposition and desire to share the joy of art with future generations.
Miss Ruby appears slight at first glance, but her compact form belies the full life and warm spirit it contains. For Miss Ruby, fostering hard work and strong community ties are a calling, and her paintings are just one of the ways she answers that calling. From ministering to New Jersey youth to growing the vegetables that sparked her journey as an artist, Miss Ruby's values of independence, close family, and religious grounding are evident in the life she has led.
She was born in the 1920s. The exact year is a mystery, one Miss Ruby says it's her prerogative to maintain. When asked her age by a reporter, Miss Ruby cheekily responded, "I'm famous now. I can say, 'no.' That's one of the last things I've got left."
But while she may be coy about her age, she is open—and proud—of her hometown of Bealsville. Bealsville was founded by freed slaves in the 1860s, one of whom, Mary Reddick, was Williams's great-grandmother.
Before moving back to farm her ancestral land in the 1980s, Ruby spent 25 years working with children in New Jersey as an evangelical minister. She did her best to pass on her compassion and instill in them a "do-what-it-takes" mentality. It's a philosophy she adheres to in her own life.
"I've been ministering since I was a kid..I do everything from the bottom of my heart, whether shelling a bucket of beans or making a painting."
Miss Ruby may be a famous folk artist now, but she hasn't lost her passion for ministering to her community. She is fond of hosting dinners for friends and collectors where she serves a home-cooked meal and follows it with a heartfelt sermon.
Rodney Hardee became one of her first collectors in 1991 when he commissioned a tabletop painting after noticing the eye-catching signs Williams had created to advertise her produce stand. Hardee encouraged Miss Ruby to continue painting, and thus began a journey that has led her into classrooms, galleries, and museums nationally.
In 2005, Ruby Williams was honored with a Florida Folk Life Award and was included in the show, "On Their Own - Selected Self-taught Artists" at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington D.C. The Piano Playing Cow was featured on the 2014 Kentuck Festival staff shirt and is part of the Kentuck Permanent Collection.
Inspired by recent programming at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, beginning June 5th Kentuck Art Center is dedicating ten days of online content to the Black artists in our Permanent Collection. While Kentuck Art Center cannot address the full complexity of systemic racism on our own, we can gain perspective and a sense of purpose by listening to the voices of artists we are proud to have in our collection.
Kentuck's Permanent Collection holds artworks of significance to Kentuck's history, as well as the American Folk Art movement. The objects collected by Kentuck physically document the narrative of American Folk Art, as well as Kentuck's Festival, Studio, and Exhibiting artists. The objects in Kentuck's Permanent Collection form a history that is the basis for research, exhibition, interpretation, and community engagement.