In the 1960s, artist, photographer, and former actress, Ruth Inge Hardison made her mark with several series of remarkable sculptures. One series called “Ingenious Americans” featured Black inventors, such as Charles Drew, Benjamin Banneker, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Lewis Latimer, Garrett Morgan, and Granville Woods. Another popular series entitled “Negro Giants in History,” included Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Paul Robeson.
In 1981, Hardison created a bronze bust of Jackie Robinson that was installed at the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center in Harlem. In 1983, she crafted a bust of famed abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, for display in the reference room of Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Then, in 1990, her sculpture of 19th century freedom-fighter and women’s rights advocate, Sojourner Truth, was presented by Governor Mario Cuomo of New York to Nelson Mandela.
“By memorializing such great, selfless people, I have been able to put within the experience of many schoolchildren, college students and adults those much-needed models of inspiration,” Hardison once offered. “Many of those who read the biographies of these sculptured heroes are encouraged to try to make their own lives more meaningful.”
Through art, Hardison made her own life more meaningful. Born to a chicken farmer and a teacher in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1914, her family migrated to Brooklyn, NY when Hardison was young to escape Jim Crow segregation in the South. Upon graduating from Girls High School, the multitalented talented youth began photography, modeling, and acting, landing a number of roles, including one as Topsy in “Sweet River,” a 1936 Broadway adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While on Broadway, Hardison began sculpting as a hobby, even producing a model of the cast from “What a Life,” the popular play she performed in.
Hardison went on to study music and creative writing at Vassar College, publishing several poems in The New York Times. She continued art studies at the Art Students League of New York and at what is now Tennessee State University. In the 1940s and ‘50s, Hardison worked as a photographer, taking images of such iconic figures as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Robeson, and Ethiopian monarch, Haile Selassie.
With the advent of the civil rights movement, Hardison would play her part and, in the 1960s, produce her famous series of sculptures celebrating the contributions of Black historical figures. She would also cofound and participate as the only female member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1969, an organization promoting awareness of Black artistic achievement.
Despite her popularity as a sculptor of famous figures like Robinson and Douglass, Hardison also produced “Our Folks,” a collection featuring sculpted portraits of everyday people.
The multitalented Ruth Inge Hardison died in 2016 at the age of 102.
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