Display at new BFEC education center honors artist Ruth Bemis

For many years, Ruth T. Bemis has been admired at Kenyon as a generous supporter of the arts as well as an artist in her own right, whose paintings reflect a love of the natural world that surrounds and nurtures the domestic scene. This winter, in celebration of her ninety-sixth birthday, Bemis organized an exhibit of her work in a fittingly nature-oriented locale, the College's Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC).

Entitled "Fun in the Herb Garden," the show featured twenty-four oils and pastels along with three sculptures from an artistic career that has spanned more than half a century. The exhibit, in the BFEC's new education center on Laymon Road, just south of Gambier, across the Kokosing River, opened on February 24 and ran through March 8.

"Ever since Mrs. Bemis joined our advisory board, it's been in the back of my mind to exhibit her work properly," says Inese B. Sharp, codirector of the BFEC with E. Raymond Heithaus '68, Jordan Professor of Environmental Science and Biology.

"I love the bright colors and nature themes in her work," Sharp adds. "But the farmhouse, our old visitor's center, was so cramped. As soon as we opened the new building, I asked Ruth if she would be willing to show her work there. She immediately agreed."

The paintings' titles--for example, Summer's Glory, Roses and Apples, Pond at Twilight, The Bees Have Been Busy--suggest Bemis's sensitivity to and affection for nature. A number of the works depict scenes at Halcyon Hill, her historic home on Gambier Road in Mount Vernon. She and her husband, the late John H. Bemis '26, moved there in 1969 to spend their retirement after many years in Cleveland, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois. Jack Bemis, who had been an executive with Pickands Mather and Company in Cleveland, received a honorary doctor of laws degree from Kenyon in 1979.

Ruth Bemis graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and music. She went on to earn a master's degree in social work from Simmons College in Massachusettts. Painting, which she discovered in an art class in 1950, "captured me completely and became my dominant interest," she wrote in the exhibit program. She enjoys "the delightful act of creating a painting, with all the tantalizing problems along the way . . . and the surprise of the result."

Mrs. Bemis has exhibited her work at Ohio Wesleyan and at the Semple-Upham Culture and Arts Center in Mount Vernon. At Kenyon, she has exhibited in the former gallery in Colburn Hall, at the Red Door Café, and, in 1996, in a ninetieth-birthday show in the Olin Art Gallery.

As a couple, the Bemises were generous supporters of Kenyon, and Ruth Bemis has continued her support since Jack died in 1981. The Kenyon Review, the Bolton Theater, and a number of art and music programs have all benefited from the Bemises' gifts, not to mention many gifts for general purposes. Mrs. Bemis is perhaps best known on campus for a donation, in 1986, that enabled the College to create the Bemis Music Room, a music classroom and recital space, in Peirce Hall.

Mrs. Bemis has also supported the environmental center through gifts as well as through her active participation on the BFEC advisory board. "She took particular interest in the design of the new education center," says Sharp. "When she heard that we wanted to incorporate barn-like architectural elements to reflect the local farmscape, she and her assistant drove all over Knox County taking pictures of barns, to show us what the possibilities were.

"Anyone who knows Mrs. Bemis," Sharp adds, "knows what a wonderful inspiration she is on how to live life to the fullest."

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