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Early Influences for Santa Fe Artist Ford Ruthling

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Ford Ruthling’s was a student of the artist Jozef Bakos, one of Los Cinco Pintores, who taught art at Santa Fe High School. Ruthling remembered him as having a big crown of white hair, always wore an enormous black bow tie and chain smoked cigarettes.

In addition to having Bakos as an art teacher, Ruthling was surrounded by Santa Fe’s intelligentsia while growing up. Since his father was not present during his formative years, his mother made sure that each year for his birthday that he got a new godfather. Some of those surrogates included: Will Shuster, the artist and creator of Zozobra, Judge David Chavez and the editor and journalist, Will Harrison.

 A 1944 photo of Ford Ruthling on the left with his twin brother Carleton, and Marcelo Herrera of Tesuque Pueblo.

Fords mother, Helen Maurer Ruthling, came to Santa Fe in 1916 as the governess to the grandchildren of Mabel Dodge Luhan. As a wealthy woman from the east, Luhan’s enthusiasm and generosity nurtured many creative souls including: D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Mary Hunter Austin and Georgia O’Keeffe. When she divorced in the 1940s Ruthling had no means of supporting her family, so out of necessity, she founded the first overnight camp for children in northern New Mexico.

Ford Ruthling had fond memories of those childhood adventures. His twin brother Carleton, and his older sister, Theo, also helped out at the Rancho Arroyo camp for children in Tesuque during World War II. In addition to having new friends to play with, Ruthling helped his mother grow their own vegetables in the “Victory Garden.” During the war many people had victory gardens that provided food for their families, they were also a symbolic gesture filled with hope that the country would declare victory.

The strong work ethic that Ruthling learned as a young boy provided him with the stamina and endurance to make his declaration of becoming a working artist a reality. His art was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of New Mexico, and in galleries throughout the world. In 1977 his paintings highlighting the pottery from New Mexico’s Acoma, Hopi, Zia and San Ildefonso Pueblos, became a series of U.S. Postage stamps back when it cost 13 cents to mail a first class letter. Ford Ruthling was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure in 1993, he died in 2015.