Ruth Vansickle Ford was a multi-talented visual artist, educator, and businesswoman. She is best known as a pioneer of art education in addition to being an acclaimed watercolorist and oil painter. She was also a calculated risk taker, showing not a little courage and gumption in purchasing the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts during the Great Depression. Vansickle Ford built the Academy into an elite fine arts college before selling the institution in the early 1960′s. She appeared to have studied and adapted part of the ”Bauhaus School” template but with greater emphasis on basic education that also favored a more conceptual rather than technical approach to the arts. Vansickle Ford was greatly respected for an educational vision based on the affordability of art and art education that would be independent of market forces.
Vansickle Ford, or ”Sugar”as she was called, created valuable oil and watercolor paintings critically respected for an almost obsessive attention to detail. She had the fortune to have studied with George Bellows at the Academy and seemed to capture part of his genius from the ”social realism” movement of New York. The muscularity of Bellow’s his prime work is also evident in Vansickle who’s paintings burst with a vibrancy and physicality juxtaposed with a refined sensuality and femininity. She is best known for her portraiture. Watercolor.com considers Vansickle Ford to be one of the top 40 watercolor masters of all time and is the unique woman in this selection.
Vansickle Ford was a ”thoroughly modern millie” and probably a prototype for the creation of the suffragette image at that time. She wore wild dangling earrings and was never at a loss of words. To her students, her stock quip was ”Do you want to borrow my glasses”. Her brilliance was living with a woman’s identity but considered her roles as an artist, teacher ,administator to be her own doing,thus creating multiple personnas that surpassed gender. Somewhat eccentric, Vansickle along with architect Bruce Goff designed and constructed an unusual and futuristic ”round house” in 1947 that served as the Ford’s residence. Her brilliance lay in contructing a solid education base for the arts and working on her own art without losing her focus in superficial identity traps.