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Mary Ruth Moore, 1936-2023

Francis Oliver

It is with great sadness that we share the news that beloved Professor Emerita of Photography Mary Ruth Moore has passed. Mary Ruth was, according to dear friend and former colleague Senior Lecturer Ben Reynolds, “unpretentiously and purely an artist.” She is remembered as a deeply enthusiastic beacon who centered encouragement in the studio and classroom to help students hone in on their strengths. During her retirement party, solo exhibition reception, and commemorative scholarship dedication at the Lamar Dodd School of Art in 2017, Professor Michael Marshall shared “For those of you who have studied with her, you already know the magic of being in the classroom with her. She speaks with reverence about the physicality of light. I’ve heard stories that she has been known to walk around a beam of sunlight, so keen is her awareness.”

Mary Ruth Moore was born on April 2, 1936 a few miles away from her family farm near Watkinsville, Georgia. She moved throughout the Southeast as a child and earned a bachelor’s in art at the University of Montevallo, south of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1954. As a student, Mary Ruth was fond of drawing and painting and pursued teaching after graduating. Mary Ruth began attending the Lamar Dodd School of Art in 1965 as a student in the master’s in art education program under Professor Emeritus W. Robert Nix, earning her degree in 1970. It was through Professor Nix that Mary Ruth discovered the poetry of light and photographic technique. She shared, “And Dr. Nix would go on and on about the ‘quality of light.’ It was right down my alley. It was. I just bit—hook, line and sinker.”

Her teaching career began in 1973, at a time when the field of photography was a relatively new area of study. Her enthusiasm for the artform permeated her classroom and friendships. Mary Ruth exclaimed, “I love photography and I promise that you will too. And when that moment happens, you’ll know it because you’ll think about it all the time. You won’t think about just it, but you’ll relate it to everything you do. And I want you to do that. You’ve got to do that, so that your photographs will be personal. I want to see something I never have seen before.”

She loved to develop film alongside her students of glass bottles, architectural ruins, and lace, tell stories about her life in the South and her family home outside Athens, and convey the wonder and power of building a pinhole camera. Among the many profound legacies she left behind in her over forty-year career, Mary Ruth was instrumental in establishing a dark room at the UGA Cortona campus in 1983, upon the invitation of UGA Cortona program founder and then-director Jack Kehoe. She taught courses in Cortona over 10 summers and derived inspiration from Italian Renaissance artworks. Bringing back inspiration from Italy, Mary Ruth shared “You know the lighting in Italy is just written about and talked about and dreamed about. You always hear of the amber light of Florence. And it’s just beautiful. But it’s not any prettier than Georgia. There’s beautiful light right here.”

Mary Ruth Moore was herself a beautiful light in our midst. Ben Reynolds shares, “To many of us she was an even more beautiful, compelling, and consistent light than the light she so skillfully and sensitively captured in her photographs. Generations of students benefited from their time with her in the classroom. Her positive contributions to the School of Art and medium of photography cannot be measured.”

Mary Ruth Moore Reciprocity Fund

The Mary Ruth Moore Reciprocity Fund Award was founded in 2017 in the wake of Professor Emerita Moore’s retirement after an illustrious career of over forty years at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Announced alongside a solo exhibition marking her life’s work and a jovial retirement gathering, the Mary Ruth Moore Award was established to foster the creative spark of photography students at the Lamar Dodd School of Art pursuing a unique project, as Mary Ruth had consistently done so during her tenure at the School. We thank the committee of alumni, faculty and friends who helped coordinate Mary Ruth's retirement celebration and exhibition while also initiating the Mary Ruth Reciprocity Award Fund. 

If you would like to be a part of honoring Mary Ruth's legacy and her work, additional donations may be made to the Mary Ruth Moore Reciprocity Award

Image: Photograph of Mary Ruth Moore included in the 2017 exhibition Works by Mary Ruth Moore in the Dodd Galleries.


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