TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A renowned folk artist from the Bay area who was featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian has passed away.
Ruby C. Williams, who was in her 90s, built a legacy that started at her produce stand.
She grew up in Bealsville, a community in southeastern Hillsborough County created by newly-freed slaves in the late 19th century.
Her family grew produce and Williams ran the stand on State Road 60 where it was sold.
She drew paintings to showcase what was for sale, including strawberries, cantaloupe and collard greens.
By the early 1990s, her work attracted the attention of folk artists and collectors who passed by.
“She said, ‘I can’t sell my fruits and vegetables, they’re just buying all my signs,’” said Jeanine Taylor, owner of Jeanine Taylor Folk Art.
To this day, Taylor showcases her longtime friend’s work at her gallery in Sanford, Fla.
“There wasn’t anything more important than being kind to people,” she said.
“Every time I went, I bought,” said George Lowe, who is best known as the voice of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.”
Lowe has a 721-piece art collection in his Lakeland home and has a clear passion for folk art, specifically.
Many of his pieces were made by Miss Ruby.
“You couldn’t help but fall in love with her because she was always working on something and I had been so many times it reached a point where she treated me like the dealers. We got the dealer price,” he said.
Lowe has Ruby’s dolls and wood paintings hanging on his walls.
“She actually had painted on bed sheets. She got on such a roll, it’s like, well, I’m out of wood. Get me something else fast,” said Lowe, who has the bed sheet paintings too.
Ruby C. Williams became a star in the folk art world in central Florida, culminating in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum for self-taught artists.
“It’s people with no formal training who just one day sit down and start making art,” said Lowe.
“I stayed in New Jersey. I was a driver. I used to take people down to the Smithsonian for them to see it. But, I never thought I would be in it,” Williams told News Channel 8 in 2017.
Williams’ work is part of the permanent collection at the Polk Museum of Art but is not currently on display.