One rarely comes across an artist whose remarkable talents flow across a wide swath of multiple medias. Such is true of Mary Ruden – painter, sculptor, textile artist, illustrator, renovator, etc. She is a tireless champion of history and uses her artistic talents to promote and preserve antiquity. She masterfully captures the natural world with brilliant colors that gracefully swirl into explosions of vibrant joy. Her sculptures, bronze castings, and metal work are stunning and breathtaking. Every time I gaze at her work, I am captivated and awestruck. Her own indefatigable nature astounds me.
Mary Ruden and I met after she contacted Appalachia Bare last year regarding the unveiling of Lizzie Crozier French’s memorial plaque. I am so grateful for her interest in and support of our endeavor. She remains a steady ally in our efforts to provide a venue for Appalachian talent, stories, and history. Recently, I asked her several questions and was honored by her replies. I’d like to share our encounter here. A gallery of her work follows.
AB: When did your artistic journey begin? And when did you realize your talent?
RUDEN: My artistic journey began when I was about four years old; I loved flower gardens and thought the world should have more color, and certainly more art. I started sketching at a young age and liked to sketch medieval swords and historical objects and people. My interest in history was reinforced by visiting museums and gardens in Europe throughout my life.
AB: Who are your biggest artistic influences? What motivates you to create?
RUDEN: I have fallen in love with the classics, and therefore want to keep them alive in our modern times. Portraiture in sculpture and in 2D art is my way of featuring the people who made a difference in their lifetime. In the last two years, my sculptures, drawings and quilts have been displayed in several museums in four states, as well as having some presence on Instagram and my website.
My website has a few videos that go into detail on the Tennessee women suffragists who fought for the right to vote from the 1800s up to 1920. Their story can live on through the artwork. The bronze bust I created of Lizzie Crozier French, famous Knoxville woman suffragist, has been on display at City Hall in Salisbury, NC, for a few years now. It was also part of the Centennial display at the East Tennessee History Center in Knoxville in the women’s right to vote exhibit. Portraits can be enjoyed for their artistic beauty, and also because of the many accomplishments the person may have been known for. QR codes accompany several of these works, that tell more about the individuals and their story. In this way, art can transcend barriers, such as time and place, and be educational. Historically, Tennessee has many women who brought about the changes that have shaped our world today. I have made it my focus to help keep their memory alive and inspire others through my art.
AB: When is your favorite time of day to create?
RUDEN: I am mainly a night person and work while listening to music ranging from classical to rock or jazz; I own an antique organ and tubular bells, so really like the classics. Luckily, we have a good classical radio station here: WUOT. Music stimulates the mind and helps pass the long hours at the easel or sculpture stand.
AB: What are your current projects?
RUDEN: In production now is a bust of Anne May Davis, founder of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is sculpted from a photo of her taken in 1925 when she was a legislator in Tennessee and signed the papers to make the Park a reality. I also created a quilt with her image surrounded by the mountains and wildflowers and exhibited it at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg in 2021. The bust will be on display fairly soon. The Centennial of her signing the papers for the Park is in 2025, not too far away; I expect there will be some celebration at that time . . .
Mary Ruden Gallery
For more information, and for a more extensive gallery of Mary Ruden’s work, please visit maryruden.com.
**All images published with permission by Mary Ruden.
**Featured image of Mary Ruden with her bronze bust of Knoxville, Tennessee, suffragist Lizzie Crozier French