Ruthe Blalock Jones doesn't recall ever aspiring to become an artist. That's just what she always was.
“I remember as a child, I never said ‘I'm going to be an artist' or ‘When I grow up I will be.' I always said, ‘I am.' I never thought that was unusual, but I guess it was,” Jones said in a phone interview from her Muskogee home.
If she wasn't painting from the time she was old enough to grasp a brush, she came pretty close. Jones was first recognized for her work at age 15, when she received an honorable mention at an annual juried painting competition in 1954 at Tulsa's Philbrook Museum. She sold her award-winning painting for $15 to acclaimed Creek-Pawnee artist and teacher Acee Blue Eagle.
From that impressive first professional sale, Jones has crafted a storied career as a nationally known American Indian artist, sought-after authority on the traditional painting style she favors and a respected arts educator.
This weekend, the Claremore-born artist, who is of Delaware, Shawnee and Peoria heritage, will be lauded as the 2011 Red Earth Honored One during the 25th Annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival.
The Honored One designation is given annually to a master visual artist who has made significant contributions to American Indian art. In nominating Jones, Mary Jo Watson, director of the University of Oklahoma's School of Art and Art History, praised this year's Honored One for dedicating her life to educating artists and creating art.
“Ruthe's art speaks volumes about the pride of her tribal relationships. ... She pays acute attention to authenticity in detail of dress and the ceremonial aspects of traditional tribal life, and some of her paintings could easily be her childhood recollections,” Watson wrote. “She truly is a positive role model and ambassador of arts. Ruthe has many talents maybe others are not aware (of). She is a champion hoop dancer, war dancer and excellent cook.”
Working with artists
Growing up along the Spring River in the Quapaw area and raised with the Shawnee traditions, Jones was 10 when she began her formal art training as a student of renowned Oklahoma painter Charles Banks Wilson. She attended local schools until her fateful sale to Blue Eagle. On his recommendation, she was able to attend high school at Bacone College in Muskogee on an art scholarship.
She earned her associate degree from Bacone in 1970, her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Tulsa in 1972 and her master's in arts education in 1989 from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. In 1979, she began teaching art at Bacone; she retired a year ago as director of art at her alma mater.