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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Folk artist Ruby C. Williams holds exhibit in Tampa

Eastern Hillsborough County folk artist Ruby C. Williams is hosting an exhibit of her paintings and dolls at a Hillsborough Community College art gallery until Feb. 28. At Gallery 221, on the North Dale Mabry campus, folk artist Williams renders the world and people around her in a self-taught style that is intuitive and naïve. On large weathered boards, she uses rich, bold colors to capture the essence of produce and people, and to express some of her original philosophies. A native of Bealsville in eastern Hillsborough County, Williams sells her home-grown vegetables and paintings by the side of a road that edges her farm. That's where gallery director Kathy Gibson went to get many of the pieces for this show. "Ruby allowed me to select some of her older pieces that were in the back of her walk-in gallery," Gibson said.
Because of that, many of the more than 50 works in the exhibit have never been seen by the public. Gibson first met Williams and saw her work at a show in 1994. "I had never seen folk art before, and didn't know what it was," she recalled. "It kind of attacked my senses. It was very poignant. Some of it was just raw. It was so bright. So intense. So many words — or confessions. It was a sensory overload." Williams gives her portraits personality in the way hair is rendered or with the addition of an item such as a purse, a hat or a cellphone. Gibson recognized the power of the similarities as well as the differences in the portraits and cleverly grouped many of them together along one wall. She jokingly calls it "Ruby's Community Choir." She's even got a church pew facing them. One of the figures to be found in that group is "Bonnie." "Bonnie is one of her most-painted figures," Gibson said. "She's painted Bonnie more than any other figure. Bonnie doesn't ever go out without her matching bag and shoes, even in a swimsuit." A portrait of "Bonnie" and several dolls fashioned after the Bonnie character are featured in the show. "Ruby designed the dolls, and her late daughter, Winifred, did the sewing," Gibson said. A four-minute video loop that runs during the exhibition gives a fuller picture of Williams and her philosophies. It is part of an interview Gibson did with the artist in 2006 for National Public Radio. Gallery 221 is next to the second floor library in the Learning Resources Building on the HCC campus, 4001 Tampa Bay Blvd. Go to www.folkvine.org to learn more about Ruby C. Williams.

Correspondent Esther Hammer can be reached at ehammer@tampatrib.com.
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