By Jerry Slayton
Our June Artist of the Month is Ruth McIntosh, a multimedia visual artist, writer, dancer, and Air Force Veteran. Ruth is truly a renaissance woman with talents in many artistic areas. Her 50+ year artistic journey has led her through painting, printmaking, Fabergé eggs, miniature diorama art, embroidery, paper-making, digital photography, encaustic painting, poetry, and free-style ballet, and I have a feeling there is more to come! To my eyes, the common link through all of Ruth's work seems to be a reflection on personal experience and memory. Nowhere is this more present than in her meticulous miniature dioramas. So, for this blog, I'd like to focus on two specific dioramas. The first is an egg diorama that stretches back 50 years, to when Ruth was 16 years old and first starting to work as a miniature artist. And, the second, a more recent artwork that distills a memory of her grandfather.
Ruth was born in Mexico City to missionary parents, John and Genevieve McIntosh. They lived outside the city in a more rural community, and later moved to Dallas where Ruth attended school. Growing up, Ruth's Mother was a creative mentor to her. Her mother made dresses for her and her sister, did construction such as tile work and carpentry around their house, and created paintings. Then, when Ruth was around 13, a lady from a neighboring church introduced her to decorating duck eggs. The lady gifted Ruth a pair of ducks so she would have an endless supply of eggs to continue her art. For years she cared for the ducks and painted their egg shells. When she was 16 years old, she created the piece we see below.
“This piece was one I created early on. I made the contours of the hillside with Sculpta Mold, and then covered it with green flocking. The base of the scene is a slice of cedar tree, from the property we lived on. And then I borrowed from my mother’s sewing supplies to have that cord that looks like a lariat to go around the outside of the egg... The fence is actually made from straw flower stems, and there are some tiny straw flowers down at the cover of the fence.”
Though formally a landscape, to me this piece represents a portrait of sorts. It depicts the peaceful prairie, connecting it to the ideals and mythology of the farm, and perhaps American Westerns of the 1960s. The innocent colt represents youthfulness, and its leaning gesture seems to be asking the viewer for a pet. Ruth has captured something here, a moment in time but also a feeling. Perhaps the way she felt as she walked through pastures and encountered friendly animals in her youth. Perhaps the way Texas was depicted in TV westerns of the time. Maybe a bit of both?
For the first 30 years of adult life Ruth didn't make much art. Her career as an Air Force nurse (R.N., B.S.N.) occupied much of her time. Then around the mid 2000's she joined an art therapy group at the VA and later attended a Faberge Egg convention in Dallas, which introduced her to more sophisticated methods. After that, her artistic passions were reignited and she began investigating her early memories through miniature dioramas.
Perhaps her earliest memory, or her first memory recorded by photograph, is that of her grandfather holding her as an infant, pictured above in the top-center. In this diorama Ruth explores a moment in time, but also, a place and a space. Not imagined, but recreated at 1:12th scale. Recollections of 1956, Grandfather Holding Ruth McIntosh for the First Time, is an elaborate reconstruction of her grandparents home.
“ That one was a real labor of love. I was in a miniatures club and we were going to create dome scenes, we started out with a wall, so we would have an interior and an exterior, and I started with a rocking chair and a bookcase... and the rocking chair reminded me of the photograph with my grandfather... one idea lead to the next and so I started looking for figurines that matched his pose... then all the details came flooding back. The 3-corner shelf, the coffee grinder and the antique glass kerosene lamp were the biggest challenge. You have to look at things at full scale and seeing how they can be reimagined in miniature.”
The meticulous nature of Ruth's work is astonishing. Her work includes her personal story in ways that are deeply personal and direct. She uses imagination and ingenuity to take on formal challenges and thinks outside the box ever step of the way. As Ruth continues to explore and share her memories at 1:12 scale, I only hope she realizes how powerful they are for us 1:1 scale humans.
Good luck Ruth, and congratulations on you Artist of the Month recognition.
For more information on miniatures Ruth recommended this website: miniatureworld.com
Ruth joined us on our Community Conversation Series sharing her talents. View the conversation here: https://youtu.be/z5ytWZLkn2M