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About this blog: John Barry is the creator of trAction Painting, a process/performance genre in which he applies paint to large surfaces with bicycles, roller skates, and other wheeled conveyances. With Bill Carmel and other associates, he has bro...  (More)

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Three Generations of Artists Together (from Shanghai to Danville)

Uploaded: Jan 30, 2012

Danville artist Leslie Ruth comes to painting by way of her mother and grandmother, both artists in their own right. "I'm the third generation of artists in my family," says Ruth, pictured in her studio with work by the three generations. When she was a child, she used to "tag along" on plein air painting outings around the Peninsula with her grandmother Mary Carey and her mother, Helena Willi. Her mother got her art education in New York, Canada, France, Japan, and Shanghai, her home for many years. Her grandmother moved to Shanghai when her British missionary parents started a silk factory there, employing homeless girls.

In spite of her background, Ruth initially did not want to be an artist. But she started taking pottery classes in college. She then tried oils and acrylics. Then watercolor. "I loved the spontaneous, transparent characteristics of the medium," she says. And she was hooked on it.

In 1985, she and her husband, a pilot with Hawaiian Airlines and a member of the Air National Guard, moved to Oahu, where they lived for 12 years. There she started an enterprise called Keiki (child) Blossoms, creating custom-hand-painted children's clothes, which she sold at art fairs and local shops. She joined the Hawaii Watercolor Society and took workshops, eventually winning awards, including the 1995 Excellence in Realism Award at the Hawaii Watercolor Society 33rd Annual Open Exhibition.

Ruth characterizes her Hawaiiana as "impressionist-realistic." She says many visitors to the Islands develop nostalgia for them and gravitate to her paintings of small shave-ice stands and lush vegetation, for example. "By emphasizing the uniqueness of Island places and objects, I hope to share a nostalgic memory or emotion with viewers of my work," she says, adding, "I see my job as to not merely copy what I see but to interpret it in such a way that I elicit from viewers a personal or emotional connection."

She stayed with her rep until the economy collapsed in the early 2000s. And shortly after that, she and her young family moved back to the mainland, seeking a better school system and a return to California. (Ruth is a fifth-generation native of the Golden State.)

In late 2007, she notes, she was walking down Hartz Avenue and encountered local plein air painter Stephen Sanfilippo in front of the then-new Pioneer Art Gallery at 524 Hartz (now the site of Rakestraw Books). "I saw a group of people painting the walls and asked Stephen what they were up to." He explained that they were readying the gallery to open. Ruth joined the painting party and subsequently became a member of the Alamo Danville Artists' Society (ADAS), under whose aegis the gallery and the several studios upstairs operated.

Ruth shares a large studio space with four other artists at 524 Hartz, currently home to a dwindling number of artists having been relegated to one large suite. She has had studio space in that building since its inception as a artists' venue in October 2007.

In March works by the three generations of artists will be together in an exhibition in the Diablo Valley College Library in Pleasant Hill. Ruth recently finished mounting the exhibit, which will include 45 paintings by her and her mother and grandmother. It runs in from February 6 through March 9, with a reception on March 3 from 1:00 to 3:00.

For more information about Leslie Ruth, visit her Website:

John A. Barry is a writer and avocational artist. To share anything art-related or to pitch a story idea, call him at 314-9528 or email
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