Ruth G. Waddy

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Ruth G. Waddy
Ruth G. Waddy.jpg
Ruth Waddy (center)
Willanna Ruth Gilliam

January 7, 1909
Lincoln, Nebraska
DiedMay 24, 2003
Known forprintmaker

Ruth G. Waddy (January 7, 1909 – May 24, 2003) was an American artist, printmaker, activist, and editor, based in Los Angeles.

Early life and education[edit]

Willanna Ruth Gilliam was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1909, and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, daughter of John Moses Gilliam and Willie Anna Choran Gilliam.[1] Her father worked as a waiter on the railroads; he died when Ruth was thirteen years old. She attended the University of Minnesota to train for teaching, but left school to work as a domestic servant in Chicago, to help support her family during the Depression. During World War II she moved with her young daughter to Los Angeles, California to work as a riveter at Douglas Aircraft Corporation. After the war she worked at a county hospital, where one of her co-workers was designer Noah Purifoy.[2]


Waddy was in her fifties when she turned to a career in art, especially as a linocut printmaker.[3] In 1962, Waddy founded Art West Associated, to gather and support the community of African-American artists in Los Angeles.[4][5][6][7] She studied briefly at Otis Art Institute, now called Otis College of Art and Design in 1965, and the following year traveled to the Soviet Union for an exhibit of African-American art, organized by a Chicago friend, Margaret Burroughs.[8] Also in 1966, her work was part of "The Negro in American Art," a traveling exhibition funded by the California Arts Commission.[9]

Waddy embarked on a cross-country bus trip to gather works for Prints by American Negro Artists (1967), a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. With Samella Lewis she edited Black Artists on Art (1969 and 1971).[10][11][12] She received awards from the Compton College in 1972, from the League of Allied Artists in 1981, from the California African American Museum in 1983, and the Vesta Award from the Woman's Building in 1986.[13] She was one of twelve African-American artists honored by the Los Angeles Bicentennial in 1981.[14] She also received a lifetime achievement award from the Women's Caucus for Art in 2001,[15] and an honorary doctorate from Otis Art Institute (now called Otis College of Art and Design) in 1987; the citation read, in part, "Your strong graphic images strike us with aesthetic, emotional, and social power, and your dedication to seeking out the distinctive experience of black artists in America has widened that power."[16]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Ruth Gilliam married and divorced William H. Waddy in the 1930s; they had one daughter, Marianna (later Maryom Ana Al-Wadi). Ruth G. Waddy died in 2003, age 94, in San Francisco, California.[17][18] Her papers are at the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University.[19] A sketchbook that once belonged to Waddy was featured in a 2013 family art workshop sponsored by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Public Library.[20][21]


  1. ^ "Ruth G. Waddy: Artist, Art Activist Remembered," Los Angeles Times (July 24, 2003): A3.
  2. ^ Karen Anne Mason, "Ruth G. Waddy," 1991 oral history transcript, UCLA Oral History program, Online Archive of California.
  3. ^ Thomas Riggs, ed., St. James Guide to Black Artists (St. James Press 1997): 543. ISBN 1558622209
  4. ^ Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, "'Your Life is Really Not Just Your Own': African-American Women in Twentieth-Century California," in Lawrence Brooks de Graaf, Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Taylor, eds. Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California (University of Washington Press 2001): 236. ISBN 0295980826
  5. ^ Daniel Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles (Duke University Press 2009): 87. ISBN 9780822392620
  6. ^ "Art West Associated Makes Art History," Los Angeles Sentinel (January 16, 1964): A21.
  7. ^ Kellie Jones, "Black West: Thoughts on Art in Los Angeles," in Lisa Gail Collins and Margo Crawford, New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers University Press 2006): 47. ISBN 9780813541075
  8. ^ Art Seidenbaum, "One Woman's Mission to Moscow," Los Angeles Times (July 9, 1966): B1.
  9. ^ "Art News: Negro Culture Contribution to be Shown," Los Angeles Times (September 4, 1966): 130.
  10. ^ "Negro Artists Will Exhibit in Glendale," Los Angeles Times (June 21, 1970): sg_b6.
  11. ^ Ruth Waddy and Samella Lewis, eds., Black Artists on Art Volume 1 (Unity Works 1969). ISBN 0941248267
  12. ^ "Limited Edition Original Prints," Black World/Negro Digest (January 1974): 97.
  13. ^ Mary Whitlock, "Ruth Waddy with her Vesta Award, 1986," Women's Building Image Archive.
  14. ^ "City Honors Twelve Black Artists," Los Angeles Sentinel (May 7, 1981): A10.
  15. ^ "Past WCA Lifetime Achievement Award Honorees," Women's Caucus for Art.
  16. ^ "Otis Will Honor Conrad, 3 Others with Doctorates," Los Angeles Times (May 14, 1987).
  17. ^ "Ruth G. Waddy: Artist, Art Activist Remembered," Los Angeles Times (July 24, 2003): A3.
  18. ^ "Requiem: Ruth Waddy," Amistad Reports14(7)(Fall 2003): 7.
  19. ^ "Arts and Arts Promotion in the Ruth G. Waddy Papers," Amistad Log (1-3)(1983): 3.
  20. ^ "Family Workshop: Watts Library: Art in a Box," African American Heritage Month: 2013 Calendar and Cultural Affairs Guide (City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs 2013): 61.
  21. ^ LACMA Video, "The Ruth Waddy Sketchbook" (2011).