The life-sized sculpture of a woman reading a book on a bench outside the Ellison Building is a familiar face ― and resting spot ― for many at UC Davis Health.
But Ruth Rippon, 90, the innovative and pioneering ceramist and Sacramento State faculty member who was commissioned to produce that bronze sculpture back in 1999, may be less well known to some.
A new exhibit opening Sunday, Oct. 29 at the Crocker Art Museum entitled Exuberant Earth celebrates Rippon’s life work and artistry over the past 50 years. Her body of work has placed Northern California, and Sacramento in particular, as a center of excellence in the ceramics tradition.
“I have always tried to make my work more than just functional and to use the surface of the clay as a means to express feelings about nature and the human condition,” Rippon wrote for the exhibit about what inspires her. “There is so much that is beautiful.”
Her unique talent and vision, as well as determination and resilience elevated the craft of ceramics into the realm of fine art, said Kristina Gilmore, Crocker Art Museum’s associate curator.
Susan Willoughby, former art curator for UC Davis Medical Center and a prominent member of the Creative Arts League Sacramento (which brought the exhibition to fruition along with Crocker staff and many supporters) agrees.
“Ruth had thousands of students, and she laid the foundation for what was to come,” she said, referring to Rippon’s tremendous influence in making the region a center for clay.
Rippon’s work reflects her love of water, history of art and storytelling. She had a boat and loved fishing in Tahoe. But her sculptures of reclining, resting and sitting female figures reflect a unique style, curators say.
“Ruth is best known for her large-scale figures, like the one at UC Davis Medical Center,” Gilmore, said. “Contemplative poses are a common theme.”
In the 160-page full-color catalogue, Exuberant Earth: Ceramics by Ruth Rippon, the authors write:
“If there is a commonality among these figures, it is their stoutness of statue and a celebration of amplitude; Rippon contends that she is poking fun herself and that she identifies with the sturdy, comfortable women….”
The book, which documents the exhibit and Rippon’s career, was produced by the Creative Arts League Sacramento and the Crocker.
“Ruth didn’t care about publicity,” Willoughby said. “People who love Ruth and her work banded together to make this exhibit and book available.”
The retrospective runs through Feb. 4, 2018 and includes other exhibition-related programs, from curator-led tours and lectures, sculpting and claywork classes, and learn-at lunch-examinations of single works of Rippon's art.
In addition, on Saturday, Oct. 28, there is a meet-the-artist event.