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Alumna’s artwork revisits controversial studies

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April 28, 2010

The black-and-white impressions plastered within each frame are unidentifiable at first.

Then, a hint of form emerges, followed abruptly by a burst of life.

The paintings represent how artist Ruth Banks Marsh, ’41, visualizes the creation of human existence.

Alumna Ruth Banks Marsh, '41, discusses her art hanging in President Dorothy Leland's hallway in Parks Hall.Alumna Ruth Banks Marsh, '41, discusses her art hanging in President Dorothy Leland's hallway in Parks Hall.The alumna recently returned to Georgia College for a view of her faith-based artwork hanging outside the office of President Dorothy Leland in  Parks Hall.

 “I am honored my pieces were showcased there,” said the 88-year-old art major and Milledgeville native. “My second reaction is realizing how shocked my art professor, Miss Mamie Padgett, would have been. Actually, she would be turning over in her grave if she knew my work was in the president’s hall. She wasn’t quite approving of some of my work.”

The Department of Art thought otherwise.

Marsh submitted drawings to last year’s “Alumni and Friends” exhibition, which christened the Museum of Fine Arts and featured artwork from 1941 to 2009.

Once the show closed, Gallery Coordinator Carlos Herrera worked with museum studies art majors to select sample alumni work for display along President Leland’s hallway.

 “Ruth’s work was interesting in that it involved materials perhaps unusual for the creation of fine art and was representative of one of our more distant alumna,” said Bill Fisher, associate professor and chair for the art department.

Using merely a Sharpie® and watercolor paper, Marsh’s quartet—titled “Progression: Chaos, God’s Emanation, God’s Creation and God’s Incarnation”—is reminiscent of 20th century woodcuts.

“It is expressive, graphic and skillful in execution,” Fisher said.

Each painting represents Marsh’s understanding of the Christian faith.

It was an anthropology class at then-Georgia State College for Women that introduced Marsh to the never-ending struggle between science and religion.

“These two levels have become clearer throughout my years,” she said. “My work shows that creation is not just automatic; there is a lot of mystery involved.”

Marsh’s artwork is a perfect example of the university’s deep-rooted history, Herrera said.

“In the art department, we still encourage our art students to cross-reference their artwork with other studies, which further reiterates our public liberal arts mission,” he said.

Although Marsh was an art major, life after college went from art into aircraft.

“For two and a half years during World War II, I worked as a simulator instructor at Naval Air Station Atlanta,” she said. “I wound up in Boulder, Colo., since my husband was completing his education at the University of Colorado.”

She too took course work there and obtained her teacher certification.

In the early 1950s, the couple moved to Aiken, S.C., and raised two children.

 “It would take my last year in the Aiken County school system to finally become an art teacher,” said Marsh. “Thereafter, painting became routine as I traveled to various vacation spots throughout the states.”

It was between 2000 and 2002 her fixation with earlier studies about the scientific method and spirituality resurfaced and helped form the “Progression” series.

“Had it not been for Mr. Bill Fisher’s surprising invitation to submit artwork; the department’s senior administrative secretary’s, Ainsley Eubanks', permission to send more than one piece; and my dear friend Joya DiStefano packaging and mailing them, my artwork would have never seen daylight,” said Marsh.

 After a five-month stay in the rotating collection along the president’s hallway, the drawings head back home to Marsh’s Aiken residence. 

“That’s only if the White House doesn’t request them for one of its rooms,” she said. “I’ve even offered them to my church, but they needed the space for bulletin boards. So the pieces will probably end up hanging in my den.”

ABOUT GEORGIA COLLEGE: Georgia College, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University, combines the educational experience expected at esteemed private liberal arts colleges with the affordability of public higher education. Its four colleges – arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences – provide 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students with an exceptional learning environment that extends beyond the classroom, with hands-on involvement with faculty research, community service, study abroad and myriad internships.

Founded in 1889, Georgia College boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation with Corinthian columns fronting red brick buildings and wide open green spaces. Georgia College also offers graduate education at the historic Jefferson building in downtown Macon, at Robins Air Force Base and online.

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