Ruth Connell is an artist, architect and educator. Born in St. Louis, Ruth spent her childhood in rural upstate New York. Ruth studied art and art history at Vassar College, and became a registered architect following graduate studies in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ruth paints mostly in oils, and likes both studio and plein air painting. She is also a printmaker, working with lithography. Her focus is on the landscape and the process of abstraction. As both an architect and an artist, she is interested in the visual dynamics of our everyday environments, and in the idealization of the natural world.
Her work has been shown in several juried exhibitions.
Ruth began her career in Philadelphia, and has taught architecture in Florida, New York State, and Maryland. She has written about many aspects of art and architecture, and has given many public presentations. Ruth was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Poland, teaching and researching architecture and urban design at the Technical University of Gdansk.
Ruth lives in Annapolis, and teaches architecture at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
My high school chemistry teacher, who lived in a monastery before becoming a chemist, believed it was important to learn philosophy before technology.
A liberal arts education at Vassar College became a great foundation for my many life interests. Not that I consciously followed the advice of the monk who became my chemistry teacher at a small town public high school, but undergraduate studies in art, literature, philosophy, anthropology, and psychology preceded my professional studies in architecture.
Graduate architecture at the University of Pennsylvania was a mercurial environment during my time there. Students were free to shape their own ideas and strategies about design. The mix of instructors was very special, and no dominant ideology controlled our education: we were encouraged to think independently. Meaningful instructors of my experiences included: Robert Le Ricolais, Siasia Nowicki, Steve Izenour, John Lawson, Terry Vaughan, and many others. Fellow students were key to our learning. I was fortunate to observe the “masters studio” critiques of Louis Kahn but shortly thereafter he died in February 1974.
Initially after U. Penn, I worked with my father, the architect Joseph A. Connell and his business partner, Anne Hersh, in Corning, New York. Both my father and Anne have been significant and admired role models in my career and life, including my gravitation towards making art, as I have watched my own father embrace art more fully in the mature years of his life.
Following Connell + Hersh, and other brief experiences as an architectural intern in Philadelphia, I was recruited to teach at the University of Miami in Coral Gables by John Ames Steffian, recruited along with the architects Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Joanna Lombard in 1979. We were essentially the first women to teach architecture at the university.
I continued to be the first woman at many programs in architecture, opening doors – I hope – for the women who followed me, while I kept moving down the road. I am proud that my longest contribution to architectural education has been at Morgan State University, where our mission is so critical to the diversity of the profession of architecture.
My focus is art, and the junctures between art, architecture and landscape.
On Making Art
My visual thinking is centered in the landscape. I am intensely connected to specific places through my life experience; I am the traveler who decides to return again and again to the same location.
St. John, United States Virgin Islands: Many of my paintings are reflective of my visits to St. John, USVI. Often working with images of tropical foliage, I am exploring visual ideas of abstraction, color relationships, and, at times, the use of allegory and symbol. My process is to work up in scale from smaller studies drawn in the field and to use my own personal photographs for reference.
Finger Lakes, New York State: I return often to the places of my childhood in upstate New York, and for many years, repeated trips to one iconic landscape, a particular field on top of a hill, closed on all four sides by tree cover. This iconic field can be seen in the painting Where I Go, which layers two landscapes together creating a visual disturbance that may suggest the temporality of our lives. Other paintings and lithographs capture the lakes and the vineyards of this region.
As an artist I explore the edge between natural organic forms and their abstraction. I transform the complexity of natural forms into more simplified shapes and color relationships. Layering, the illusion of transparency and interpenetration, and color relationships drive my explorations of the image. Color relationships are distilled into heightened complementary dichotomies. And my experience as an architect supports my interest in spatial relationships within the pictorial picture plane.
With or without allegorical images and symbolism, I like images of the natural world that provoke an emotional response, and hope that my work as an artist will advance our collective sensitivity to the natural environment.
My challenge is to translate experience into visual communication.
Colors are the children of light, and light is their mother.Johannes Itten
Our minds direct our senses every bit as much as our senses inform our minds.Robert Irwin
I feel fusion of the senses. To hear a sound is to see its space.Louis I. Kahn