Just In: Ruth Waddy’s Children

September 9, 2020
Ruth Waddy| The Children (7) (Details)| 1973 | Est. $6,000-8,000

Born and raised in the Midwest, Ruth Waddy moved to Los Angeles during World War II, where she would grow into her identity as an artist, activist, and formidable advocate for the African American art community. Waddy’s venture into artmaking began with a ceramics class she took with Tony Hill — she recalled her surprise at not needing to smoke a single cigarette while learning to work with clay because it was so absorbing. Eventually Waddy would transition to her preferred medium of linocut printmaking, most often focusing on daily life and African American experience — as evidenced by the 7-print series The Children, freshly arrived for our October 18 auction, which illustrates a fortune-telling nursery rhyme with young African American girls at work and at play.

After being turned down for a soldering job in Chicago because of her race, Waddy took a position as a riveter with the Douglas Aircraft Corporation in Burbank. Being interviewed by UCLA, she described being partnered to work with white men on the job: the men’s initial reactions of “distaste,” as she put it, gave way to friendliness when they saw that she was a strong and capable worker. She later worked as a clerk at the LA County Hospital at the same time as Noah Purifoy, and even she opened a chili dog stand amidst several efforts to be self-employed.

Ruth Waddy | The Children (1 of 7) | 1973 | Est. $6,000-8,000

When Waddy was fired because of her then-undiagnosed epilepsy, she began to work towards her longtime goal of community organizing for African Americans. “When I decided to try to make a group of African-Americans in Los Angeles,” she said, “I said I’d do it through art.” In 1962, Waddy held her first convening in the back room of the black-owned bank Safety Savings and Loan Company — and never stopped rallying around African American artists. From this early meeting, Waddy founded Art West Association of preeminent black artists, traveled cross-country gathering prints for the 1965 volume Prints by American Negro Artists, and exhibited at venues including UCLA, Womanspace, and the California African American Museum. Awarded her honorary doctorate from Otis Art Institute in 1987, Waddy was celebrated for her “strong graphic images…with aesthetic, emotional, and social power,” a “prophet exclaiming the news of black artists and calling upon the world to embrace them.”


Gyorody, Andrea. Ruth Waddy. Hammer Museum Digital Archive: Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980.

Waddy, Ruth G., interviewed by Karen Anne Mason. African-American artists of Los Angeles oral history transcript, 1991: Ruth G. Waddy. University of California, Los Angeles. 1993.

Ruth Waddy
The Children (7)
Linocuts on paper
Each signed and dated “5-1973” in graphite lower right; each retains dedicated inscription with day of the week lower left and inscribed “lino-cut” in graphite lower center sheet
Image/sheets each: 16″ x 12″

Estimate: $6,000–$8,000
October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

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