Mt. Airy's Woodmere 'legend' an angel to area kids

by Len Lear
Posted 7/30/21

Ruth Joray was the children's art teacher for 20 years at Woodmere Art Museum. Her work there eventually helped lead to the creation of the museum's Children's Gallery.

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Mt. Airy's Woodmere 'legend' an angel to area kids

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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 20 years. She worked on Saturdays and ran the summer art classes for children, and her work there eventually helped lead to the creation of the museum's Children's Gallery.

“I really loved teaching at Woodmere,” she told us last week, “Working with creative children who enjoy opportunities to stretch and explore their ideas and develop skills is an art teacher's dream. One of the kids' favorite classes annually was the final class of a session. I would display their work, and parents were invited to view their exhibit.

“I would set up a still life of fruits and vegetables; the students would paint the set-up, and at the end of the painting period, we would make the still life into a buffet for their parents' reception. It was great to have the outdoors available for the kids to work on landscape painting, to study space, distance, picture planes, textures and patterns of nature.

“And I had some memorably talented students, some who have become professional artists. One of them, Gillian Pokolo, and I have recently reconnected. She is a very talented art teacher and successful mixed media artist. We worked together for several years, about 25 years ago. She lives in Phoenixville now.”

A Maryland native, the 70-ish Joray graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in painting and art education certification in 1970. Twenty years later, she attended Chestnut Hill College (CHC) and attained an MS in counseling psychology.

At CHC, Ruth was newly remarried to full-time artist Frank Root, with a teenage daughter, an aged and sick, dying mother and a full-time job, but Joray pushed through it and came out committed to work as a counselor. However, this was a new program at CHC that was not eligible for licensure at the time.

“It was frustrating,” Ruth recalled. “I was not prepared to take additional credits to become license-eligible. I was able to gain quite a bit of experience working in a private practice evenings and weekends, however, making good connections and getting additional professional training. Eventually I was hired by The Quaker School at Horsham to be the Dean of Students. That quickly led to me being hired to become their Head of School so, despite the frustration and slow process, it did prove valuable.” (Joray also taught at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr for 17 years.)

Joray's own art work work has been exhibited in the fall/winter sale at Morris Arboretum, Allens Lane Art Center winter gift sale, Sweet Mabel Gallery in Narberth, Mt. Airy Art Garage, Tata Cafe in Mt. Airy and in a one-person exhibit at Earth, Bread + Brewery in Mt Airy.

Joray’s husband was a highly regarded artist in his own right, particularly his carved and constructed reliefs, but Root died in September, 2015, at age 79 after a five-year war with dementia. His final diagnosis was Lewy Body Disease. “I would say that 'horrible beyond belief' is putting it gently,” said Joray. “It is traumatic to live with the person you love as they disappear cognitively, emotionally and physically, until there is nothing left except a few last breaths. Life after Frank has been a complicated adjustment that I honestly think might last the rest of my life. My life with Frank was to be loved all the time.”

Joray greatly admires Anna Freud, a psychoanalyst and daughter of Sigmund Freud, who “was about identifying a person's inner resources, not imposing arbitrary rules onto a troubled child. This past school year, I had the opportunity to work with a few high school students who could not tolerate virtual school. I was asked to guide and support them through the completion of their senior year academic requirements. It was the most complicated teaching/tutoring/mentoring I've ever done ... It required a great deal of patience, meeting each one where he was and understanding ... their very personal stress of living with learning disabilities.”

According to Candace D., the mother of one local high school student, “I am truly grateful and appreciative for having Ruth in my life. I was having serious concerns about my son's education. Then Ruth stepped in to help.”

For more information, visit ruthjoray.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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