Night Pickers was added to Kentuck's Permanent Collection in 2017.
“They picked in the day for their masters and at night for their freedom,” Ruth said when she donated Night Pickers to Kentuck's Permanent Collection. She explained that slaves in southern states used cotton they picked at night to buy their freedom and aid in their escape efforts.
Born December 8, 1952, Ruth Robinson grew up in Grand Bay, Alabama. Her family supported themselves through sharecropping by growing corn, picking cotton, and raising chickens. At the age of 8, Ruth discovered her talent for painting and produced many works throughout her childhood and teenage years until a house fire in the 1960s destroyed her collection of paintings. After this tragic blow, Ruth temporarily lost her desire to create. She didn't regain this desire until the early 2000s, when she began caring for her elderly parents. The stress and anxiety of these times led her back to the passion for art she had cultivated as a child. She found comfort in capturing memories of life on the farm and went on to become an accomplished folk artist.
Working in acrylic on canvas, wood, and found objects, her paintings depict colorful scenes of her past and present. They often focus on the people who have populated her life and are framed by wood reclaimed from an old slave quarters cabin, a 150 year old church from her hometown of Grand Bay, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. About her subjects she says, "When I paint fish, it's about Uncle Bud. When I paint cotton, it's about my papa, who was a sharecropper in Wilmer. When I paint about the school bus, that's my Mom. I paint about family, and I have a lot of stories to tell about my family." By painting the people of her past, she brings them back to life.
The personal nature of Ruth's art almost stopped her from offering it to the wider world. While she knew she had a gift for bringing her ideas to life, she considered her paintings a private outlet. She didn't begin to sell her work until her mother told her she ought to "get rid of some of it" shortly before passing.
Ruth began building a following outside of Alabama and her work has now been exhibited in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Beyond her career in folk art, Ruth has raised a family, marrying in 1975 and bringing up six children. During this time, she ran an antiques shop, was a teacher's aide and substitute teacher, and helped bring art into local schools as a volunteer.
Ruth's work can be found at Kentuck's Gallery Shop in Northport, Alabama; Marcia Weber Art Objects in Montgomery, Alabama and the American Folk Art Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina.
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.