Art Philanthropist Ruth Waters

Art Philanthropist Ruth Waters

On Sunday, March 19, PMA and San Mateo County are celebrating the 40 years that Ruth Waters, sculptor and painter, has contributed to the Peninsula's arts community. Waters has been instrumental in creating art studio collectives, community galleries, the Peninsula Art Museum, the local chapter of Women's Caucus for Arts (WCA) group, and given lessons to/trained innumerable artists and volunteers in how to work within the art field. I have been witness to and have benefited from her generosity for about 20 years. 

My first experiences with Waters were through WCA (emphasizing exhibition opportunities, education and support for women artists and writers) and Artshare (now the Peninsula Arts Council). Waters had noticed my quiet but consistent involvement at our WCA meetings and asked me to attend Artshare meetings. Upon observing my ongoing interest in that community art group, she asked me to come along when she visited potential artists to show in a community gallery she managed/curated. Then she popped the question: Would I manage/curate Avenue 25 Gallery in San Mateo (a public gallery sponsored by Artshare and the Peninsula Library System)? I agreed and spent the next 4 years at that mainly volunteer job. Ruth was always happy to answer my questions and give me support during this time.

When I had to move on, another peer from her WCA art sphere volunteered to run the gallery (and did for at least six years after that). In other words, she was good at seeing potential for art leadership in the people around her and worked at providing opportunities that expanded that leadership. In fact, I wouldn't be writing this art blog now if years ago she hadn't trained me in how to interview artists and write the curatorial notes for the Avenue 25 Gallery exhibitions.

Waters at work in her studio. She has helped many of our area's wood sculptors acquire their chisel hands. 

Artists and art lovers from the local area have benefited from Waters in many ways. She was the guiding light that developed both Twin Pines Art Center and 1870 Art Center, both created in tandem with the City of Belmont. These centers repurposed empty buildings on city property so that the city made a small rental revenue and local artists had affordable work spaces.

Our present Peninsula Museum of Art originally began at Twin Pines as a two-gallery space. It was Waters who spent months searching high and low for a larger building when Belmont reclaimed much of the art space for their own recreational programs four years ago. At PMA's new, larger building in Burlingame, Waters was able to expand the exhibition space to 5 galleries. Remarkably, she included within her plans enough space to house 30 working artist studios (helping many of the artists who also lost their work spaces during the City of Belmont's space reshuffling.) The present Museum pulls in a diversity of intellectual fine artists from around the extended Bay Area, and enables our community to enjoy break-through historical or contemporary artwork with every showing. 

All of the galleries, studios, and museums that Ruth Waters has developed have been free to the public and non-profit. Arts education and a sense of community spirit is always emphasized. Waters has never been about money, instead celebrating the artwork, the artists, arts education, and the interested community. She insistes that PMA's website holds an update calendar listing of neighboring art gallery exhibits.

Since PMA does not charge an entrance fee to view the Museum galleries, kind volunteers from the community have stepped in through the years to keep the museum afloat. From the very beginning PMA's co-founding member Arabella Decker (deceased) was Ruth Waters' co-conspirator. It was between the generous guidance of the two of them (Arabella was a vocal natural at designing the layout of complex shows) that I learned much of my hands on art community spirit. From these women I learned that while art marketing is necessary, it is the art that must be front and center in any successful art experience. So how to do that? Take the dollar sign out of the picture.

"Floating Figure" by Ruth Waters

At PMA potential buyers can request contact info about the artists if he/she wishes to view more of the art or buy any of the work. Art programs (both free- and fee-type teacher instructed) are offered at the Museum, which continues Water's interest in supporting/developing the art lover, the art teacher, the art student, and the professional artist. 

Additional galleries Waters was instrumental in creating or running have been the Rotunda, Caldwell, and Community Galleries at 400 Government Center in Redwood City, and the Coastal Arts League Gallery & Museum in Half Moon Bay. She has always been a big supporter of Silicon Valley Open Studios, an organization that helps the interested public enter the many hidden art studios of our community's solitary artists. 

Please join us in celebrating this remarkable woman: 2-4pm on Sunday, at the new location for the Peninsula Museum of Art: 1777 California Dr. in Burlingame. The Dorothea Lange show will still be up and there will be a Silent Auction for those who would love to give back. If you are not able to make it to this event, Ruth Waters can most often be found working in her studio, the PMA office, or giving personal tours around the full arts facility.

"Blossom," a large piece by Waters

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"PMA Heartbeat" contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PMA as a whole.

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