Ruth Kohler

John Michael Kohler Arts Center

After earning a B.A. degree in art and art history at Smith College plus studies at the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Hamburg and Kunsthochschule (art academy) in Hamburg, Germany, the Banff School of Fine Arts, etc., Ruth spent a year teaching art in several elementary schools and a junior/senior high school in Beloit, Wisconsin. She then joined the faculty of the University of Alberta-Calgary (now the University of Calgary), Canada, where she founded the printmaking department. She worked as an artist in Spain for 1-1/2 years while she explored Romanesque and pre-Romanesque architecture along the St. James pilgrimage route and studied the prehistoric drawings in the caves along the north coast.

Ruth then became involved in the fledgling John Michael Kohler Arts Center. She was asked to become assistant director, a post she held from 1968 to 1972 under the Arts Center’s first two directors. In 1972, she was appointed the third director of the Arts Center.

Ruth has been the guiding artistic vision of the Arts Center for 40 years. She founded and built the Arts Center’s collection of the work of vernacular environment builders from—Nek Chand, creator of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh in India to Dr. Charles Smith who transformed his home and yard into the African American Heritage Museum, a Vietnam Veterans archive. She has curated or co-curated more than 100 exhibitions. She initiated the Arts/Industry long-term residency program as well as other residencies that emphasize the creation of new work and the development of meaningful connections between artists and public. Since 1997, she has pursued the development of Connecting Communities collaborations between underserved constituencies and superb visual, performing, media, and literary artists. Together with the Board, she spearheaded the 1997-1999 expansion of the facility and the $20.5 million Capital/Endowment Campaign to make it possible.