Fallen Through The Cracks – Black Artists in History: Ruth Gilliam Waddy
Ruth Gilliam Waddy
#FallenThroughTheCracks – Ruth Gilliam Waddy was born Willanna Ruth Gilliam on January 7, 1909, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was an American artist, printmaker, activist, and editor who was known for her practice of linocut printmaking and was in her fifties when she turned to art as a career. Her highly contracted prints featured stories about African-American visibility.
She attended the University of Minnesota with hopes of teaching but had to leave school to help support her family during the Great Depression. She moved with her young daughter to Los Angeles to find work as a riveter at Douglas Aircraft Corporation. After the war, she worked at a county hospital, where one of her co-workers was artist Noah Purifoy.
In 1966, her work was part of “The Negro in American Art,” a traveling exhibition funded by the California Arts Commission, and took on a cross-country bus trip to collect artworks for Prints by American Negro Artists (1967). With artist Samella Lewis, she edited Black Artists on Art (1969 and 1971). Waddy and Lewis are considered two of the “founding mothers” of the Black Arts Movement in California.
She founded an organization of artists called Art West Associated which extended the groundbreaking work of co-op galleries and helped promote the work of Black artists in the 60s and 70s in Los Angeles. She was one of twelve African-American artists honored by the Los Angeles Bicentennial in 1981, received an honorary doctorate from Otis Art Institute in 1987, and received a lifetime achievement award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in 2001. Her papers are at the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University. Ruth G. Waddy died on May 24, 2003, at age 94, in San Francisco, California.
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