by Len Lear
Ruth Joray, who has lived in Mt. Airy for 50 years at five different locations, each one within blocks of each other, is a giant in two disciplines, education and art. She was a virtual legend at Woodmere Art Museum, where she was the children’s art teacher for about 20 years, before their current robust programming with multiple teachers. She worked on Saturdays and ran the summer art classes for children, and her work there eventually led to the creation of the museum’s Children’s Gallery.
“At the end of a term,” she recalls, “we used to install an exhibit of the children’s work for the parents to see in the carriage house. I would put up an edible still life for the children to work from. When it was time for the reception, the students and I would dismantle the still life and serve it to our guests. Another memorable project was the Japanese printing style of making fish prints on rice paper using fresh fish. The prints were beautiful, but this technique lost its charm in the summer heat.
“Subsequently, I got rubber fish molds, and we printed on T-shirts, a less authentic but still satisfying project. The opportunity to use the museum for drawing lessons was an exceptional experience for all students, regardless of age. A few times we were taken into the painting vault if the plant manager or museum director could spare the time. I was there during the reign of the dapper director, Harry Harris. He could have been part of a Victorian tableau. I later worked for director Michael Schantz. He always showed an interest in the student work and also was the director when my husband, Frank Root, exhibited there.”
Raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., Joray, 71, earned a BFA in painting as well as a degree in art education from Rhode Island School of Design in 1970. She also has a degree in counseling psychology from Chestnut Hill College and has worked as a counselor for many years.
In fact, she has just launched a new consulting practice, Parent Advocate, to support parents whose children need special education services but also need guidance in getting started. After 15 years working in special education, Joray realized that she “has a great respect for the parents who often are thrown into a situation for which they are unprepared. My goal is to help parents become independent advocates for their children through understanding the appropriate available services, the specialized language and diverse options for children with special learning needs. This is a short-term, goal-oriented professional relationship, more pragmatic than therapeutic in nature.”
When Joray met Root, they connected through their mutual love of art. Shortly after the two married in 1980, Joray began teaching art full-time. She would eventually teach at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr for 17 years, become director of The Quaker School at Horsham and teach at various other schools and art centers, including Woodmere.
Joray’s own stunning art work has been exhibited at Tata Cafe in Mt Airy, the Morris Arboretum’s Insider Art Show, Allens Lane Art Center’s Holiday Art Market, and a show is scheduled for the spring at Earth, Bread and Brewery in Mt. Airy. She is searching for gallery representation and has applied to a few collaborative galleries in Philadelphia.
Joray’s husband was a highly regarded artist in his own right, particularly his carved and constructed reliefs. “He called them 3-D drawings. His work is nearly all in relief until there came a point when he could no longer do the complex problem solving of creating physically shallow, but visibly deep spaces. Then he started his jazz portraits, all 2-D drawings.”
Root died in September, 2015, after a five-year war with dementia. “It was a nightmare,” said Joray. “The first few years weren’t so terrible; true to form, Frank would make jokes about his confusion and forgetfulness. Later on I never knew how Frank would be from day to day and eventually hour to hour. Emotionally and cognitively, he was completely inconsistent. He confused time, memories, dreams and fantasy.
“He had bizarre delusions. He was emotionally volatile, and his physical behaviors also changed. It was heartbreaking as he lost his way around his studio, our home and neighborhood; he was usually confused, often profoundly. I learned that there was no limit to what I would consider doing to try to keep him alive and as well as possible. I absorbed his confusion and at times lost my own judgment. The disease traumatized both of us … Letting Frank go was the worst thing I have ever done.”
What is the best advice Ruth ever received? “My Uncle Abe encouraged me to get the psychology degree. When I complained to him that I would be 40 by the time I finished it, he said, ‘You’re going to be 40 anyway. You might as well get the degree.’ So I did.”
For more information, visit ruthjoray.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org