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Interview with Jodie Wrenn Rippy, September 4, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Jodie Wrenn Rippy, September 4, 2007
September 4, 2007
Interview with local artist Jodie Wrenn Rippy, whose work has been exhibited at New Elements Gallery, the Tyler/White Gallery, and City Gallery, and is included in the private collections of actress Louise Fletcher and producer Martha DeLaurentiis.
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Interviewee:  Rippy, Jodie Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll / Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  9/4/2007 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Jones: Today is Tuesday September 4th, 2007. I am Carroll Jones with the University Librarian Sherman Hayes, with the Randall Library Oral History Project. We are visiting Jodie Rippy in her studio this morning. Jodie is a well known artist instrumental in the formation of several groups where artists can meet, critique, and show their work in Wilmington. She has traveled internationally, painting plein air, and studying technique. She has designed several homes, is involved with First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, where in honor of her mother, Rushy [ph?], she started a service that we'll talk about later. Highlight in her life right now, her two baby granddaughters. Good morning, Jodie.

Rippy: Good morning. You knew a lot more about me than I realized. (laughs)

Jones: Well, I cheated. (laughs) All right, why don't you start out by telling us where you are from, a little bit about you.

Rippy: I call Wilmington home. I've been here since I was 12. But I was born in Cabarrus County. Both of my parents were from Cabarrus County, Kannapolis. And my father was a lawyer, and that's where I was born. No, actually he was not a lawyer then because he went to law school at Chapel Hill while I was a young child, and my brother was born there. And eventually, he became a trust officer for a bank. So we ended up here in Wilmington at age-- when I was 12 and I stayed here. They moved to Winston when I was a junior in college, but I was married here because they had moved to Winston, and that was not home to me. So I married Allen Rippy. He was my high school sweetheart. And...

Jones: You went to New Hanover?

Rippy: Went to New Hanover? No, went to New Hanover for first year and then Hoggard was built so we were the second graduating class from Hoggard High School.

Hayes: One of her friends I think is Joyce Johnson in our library. Do you know Joyce?

Rippy: Joyce-- I probably would if I saw her.

Hayes: You would. She claimed you as a classmate.

Rippy: We went to school together, yeah. Probably so.

Hayes: Was that a large class at Hoggard or--?

Rippy: It was a pretty big. I think it's about 400 students. Three or 400. That was the second high school in Wilmington.

Hayes: With this interesting light we have here, we might just mention where we are at. We're in your studio, is that...

Jones: I think we mentioned that but we'll go on to talk about this studio, which is one of her babies.

Rippy: (laughs) It is, it is.

Jones: I think this is marvelous. I would run away from home in a moment.

Rippy: Thank you, thank you. I've loved it. I have not been able to get in here as much as I wanted to because of these two new grandchildren, but...

Jones: I heard you speak to Sherman something about your seventh grade art teacher, getting back on the track. Now you're married and you've always obviously been interested in art.

Rippy: I have always been interested in art. As a matter of fact, and I could not find it, I have a letter from The White House from President Kennedy's staff when I was 10. I did a drawing of Caroline and sent it to them. And they actually sent me a nice thank you note on White House stationary. So from the age of 10 on, I have always known that this was pretty much what I wanted to do, and I really had my-- or I guess my wakening as to when I really wanted to be an artist was in the seventh grade. I was at Roland Grise Junior High School. Back then they were junior high schools, not middle schools. And my teacher was Mrs. Lynch, Virginia Lynch [ph?], and I just loved going to that class. It was such a getaway for me, an escape, and I could just create whatever I wanted to, and it was just a wonderful place to be. And I think that's when it really dawned on me that that's where I wanted to study.

Jones: Was there any particular platform or type of art that you recall?

Rippy: Not really. I just wanted to be an artist but I had thought I wanted to study studio art. As I was saying earlier, my father was a banker, therefore, he was very level-headed and would not allow me in the early 70s to be a studio art major. I had to have a job when I came out of my-- so I became an art educator. Art education major is what I majored in. So I had a degree in __________ arts.

Jones: Was that at Peace?

Rippy: Went to Peace for two years, then transferred to Chapel Hill, and that's where I got that degree.

Jones: That's where you got your degree?

Rippy: Got my degree at Chapel Hill.

Hayes: So you came through Hoggard in late 60--?

Rippy: Sixty-nine. I graduated in '69.

Hayes: So was art offered? Did you have lots of options? Could you take classes?

Rippy: There were some art classes I did not take. There were two different kinds of art classes there. One was more of an open studio type and the other was more of a commercial art. I believe I took the commercial art classes that I taught there, and really enjoyed them-- a lot of forfeiture, and more really realistic type art.

Hayes: Jodie, I'm going to ask you move over another foot or two.

Rippy: Scoot over a little bit?

Hayes: Oh, that's even worse.

Rippy: How about if I come closer. Is that better?

Hayes: There you go. Great. That's better. Thank you.

Rippy: That's the one thing about these windows. The light just kind of travels all over.

Hayes: Oh, it's very artistic, but not to even see you, that's great. That's better. Thank you.

Jones: So in your studying, you eventually, I'm sure.. I heard this from so many artists in various forms that it kind of changed a bit. Matured perhaps or investigate other styles.

Rippy: You never stop growing.

Jones: That's good.

Rippy: It's wonderful. That's what keeps it so energizing and exciting.

Jones: So where did you go from this point?

Rippy: From college, I married right out of school and started teaching. I taught at Cape Fear Academy and...

Hayes: Teaching art?

Rippy: Teaching art. And I had every grade. I had K through 12. At the academy back then, it probably is a little more structured now, but back then you wore a lot of different hats. So I taught fifth grade social studies as well. (laughs) I learned a lot. But I did have K through 12 and ended up with that job because the girl that was doing that was also their librarian, and I just happened to apply at the time they were being accredited. And to be accredited, they had to have a certified art teacher and a certified librarian. Because when I went and applied, they told me, "No, we're fine. We have all we need." And then a month later, they called me back and said, "Uh-oh, we need you after all." And that worked out there nicely. I taught there for four years and then we had our first child, and I stayed home from then on with the children. And with the last child, Katie, she turned five and went into kindergarten was when I started being a professional artist, started taking more workshops.

Jones: I heard you were painting in your kitchen.

Rippy: I painted in my kitchen. I painted in what use to be Katie's nursery. When she got out of the nursery, that was my studio, and that room was about 7' by 9', and when I really realized, though, I had to have brushes in my hand, and I would turn to do something and it would literally hit the wall and the brush would go in my nose or my chin or whatever, we decided to let me move into our garage apartment. We had a garage apartment behind our house that we rented out.

Jones: That must have been in this area somewhere?

Rippy: It was on Park Avenue.

Jones: We all seemed to [inaudible] World War II or something.

Rippy: And it was rented when we bought the house and we kept having tenants, usually young married couples. But when Katie went to school and I realized I needed more space, we took over the garage apartment, and that became my studio. And it was a wonderful space. It was almost a 2,000-square foot house. I had a room for framing, a room for painting, a room for watercolors. It was just wonderful.

Jones: So you did it all?

Rippy: Oh yeah.

Hayes: At Chapel Hill, you were doing the art education, so you had to take the full education program?

Rippy: I had to student teach.

Hayes: But you also had to take the full art degree? What courses were you taking on the art side to prepare you?

Rippy: I had to take the art appreciation for one thing, and then I had lots of design classes like drawing. There were really just a handful of art courses within the art education program. Most of them were studio art classes, ceramics, so it was the whole gamut.

Hayes: So you took the whole program?

Rippy: Mm-hm.

Hayes: You didn't have to have a senior show or something like that or did you have a senior show?

Rippy: No, I didn't. They didn't require that back then. I don't remember anybody having a senior show back then.

Hayes: The reason I was asking about it is that so many artists discover later in life, and do their own thing, but you went through a formal program. Do you think that has stuck with you? has that become foundation, that training?

Rippy: Actually not, at all, if anything, they taught me zip. (laughs).

Hayes: We won't mention where she went, will we?

Rippy: It's really very frustrating. I think different schools do different things. And Gladys and I talked about this. When Gladys went to University of Georgia, and she is right much older than I am, she had a professor that was into watercolor. And he taught her watercolor. I never had any professors that, I even saw what they did, until later, and most of it was very abstract. Of course, this was in the '70s and that was kind of that time when things were moving in that direction. So to teach representational type work back then, I think was pretty taboo. And everybody was on the cutting edge of doing these unique things.

Jones: So basically it was through your self-exploration.

Rippy: Yes, I mean, I never really had classical training, as such, until after I left and pursued it on my own. And learning to paint in oils and watercolor, I've learned a lot through reading books on how to do this, and taking workshops around the country.

Jones: Which do you prefer?

Rippy: Taking the workshops.

Jones: No, I mean watercolor?

Rippy: Oh, you mean watercolor or oil? I think oil. But I love both of them. I'll get over saturated seeing one and then move back to the other. It goes back and forth. And collage, I went through a period where I did some collage, and looked forward to getting back to that, that was just a wonderful median to work in.

Hayes: Never attempted to move away from painting?

Rippy: Well I did do a little sculpture one time. I took a workshop with a, oh, and I can't remember his name, an artist who is a well-known, figure sculpture at Saint John's Museum. They had an exhibit of his, and he did a weekend workshop. And we all enjoyed it so much that we got him to come back to teach us how to make a mold of what we had done. And this was probably 10 or 15 years ago. And I'm embarrassed to say that mine is still in the plaster cast. I have yet to chip it out. I keep saying every year that I'm going to stick that thing in a swimming pool of water and saturated that plaster and start chipping it out and see. (laughs) But its still there, so I have a real appreciation for sculptures, though. Working in a three-dimensional mode versus a 2D is another whole realm, and it was hard. (laughs)

Hayes: As I look around the room, and I guess in the camera, some people can see some of your work behind you, you talk about representational, and yet, it doesn't seem to come to me out of the school of exact copy. I mean, I'm panning down here now to some pictures of portraits and so forth. And they don't seem to be exact copies. So tell me a little bit about when you say representational, what do you mean by that?

Rippy: You know what it is, it represents something, but yet it's not a literal translation of whatever it is. Those that you just panned at, as a matter of fact, I was telling you how I do enjoy going to workshops every now and then because I think it broadens your horizons and you can always learn new things. This was a workshop that Betty Brown and I went to just several weeks ago. I've been on the eastern shore with an artist out of California.

Jones: She mentioned she was going up there.

Rippy: Yes, and she is a real colorist, and had us do a lot of things. She was a student of Henry Hensche, from the color school in Providence, Rhode Island. Hensche was a student of Charles Hawthorne, and Hawthorne was a student of William Merritt Chase. Begat, begat, begat. And so she could claim that she's a Hensche student, so anyway-- and I can claim mama. So anyway...

Hayes: What does a colorist mean?

Rippy: More like this, where the color is more just extremely strong, but through the backgrounds, and you can really tell it was a hot day versus a cool day, or a rainy day, or...

Hayes: So the color becomes the dominant element, not the features? You advocated you don't even have features. Was that a conscious choice? But that's still representational?

Rippy: It's representational. Mm-hm.

Hayes: Well, the reason I mentioned that is, that so many times people must ask you, "Well how come that doesn't look exactly like whatever you were..."

Jones: They don't know what painting is.

Hayes: Well, no, but I mean, almost photographic.

Rippy: Well, to me, I don't want to do that. Why not just take a photograph, you know. I think it's so much more exciting to have pieces that are not there, that makes you as the viewer engaged in the painting, trying to become a part of the process of viewing it, rather than just have it all done of you, so.

Jones: I once heard, a long, long time ago, when I was a child, and my mother had gone to a salon where Salvador Dali was the guest. And I thought as a child, he was one of the most bizarre human beings ever. But somebody asked him, "Why do you do those crazy thing? Are you on drugs or do you drink before you do it?" And he just looked at this person, and he said, "I see many things, you see nothing. You have no imagination, I don't speak to you." I thought, you know, it stuck me that someone would do that, say that. But later I could understand, if someone's looking for a literal translation.

Hayes: There is a sub set of art though, that attempts to capture, let's say, pencil or charcoal or something exactly, and then changes. So how would you class yourself within the art world?

Rippy: I would say I'm a match between impressionism and representational art. Because you get the impression of what it is, but it's not a literal translation, I don't put in every window pane, and every branch and every tree, and every leaf and all...

Jones: Jodie, do you ever paint from memory or do you paint from looking at either a picture, photograph, a scene, a person?

Rippy: A little bit of everything. I find I do my best work if I do a sketch of it beforehand. Then take a photograph of it, maybe take color notes and then have the photograph come up on, say the, you know, computer screen or I used to have this little machine that had slides, and you could show the slides on the screen. So the blending of all those and memory of how it was when I was there. And it helps so much just to jot that down, like in a journal. I'm not good at journaling, but when I've gone on these trip, these painting trips, with my painting friends, I do journal then, and its been amazing to go back 5, 10 years and read those journals, and the smell of the food in the kitchen even that comes to mind, because you've written it down, and all of a sudden, what you though you would never remember again is just clear as a bell.

Jones: Do you enjoy these group painting?

Rippy: Yeah.

Jones: Do you critique each others work?

Rippy: Oh no, we look at each others work and we help each other see, you know, what's working, what isn't working. We've gone to lots of wonderful places and there's, pretty much three of us, Betty Brown, Kay Ballard [ph?] and I, you know, pretty much gone on all of them. Gladys Feris has joined us a time or two. Jennie Farson [ph?] went with us once or twice, maybe. Sandra Siemering went with us one time.

Hayes: How do you spell that?

Rippy: Sandra S-I-E-M-E-R-I-N-G, she's a clay, a ceramicist.

Jones: Of course, Jennie does all kinds of things.

Rippy: Yeah, so we've had a nice group that over the years has been able to-- we've been to France, Greece, and Portugal, Italy.

Hayes: You spoke about dichotomy of an artist. Most of it is pretty solitary, right? You talked earlier about trying to not escape the children, but at least create some time away and space, and yet here you're voluntarily going out with a group. Is that a different...

Rippy: This is because you're only there for a couple of days. We have not done it in several years, I haven't. There is a group that does it, but we'll go once a week, plein air, just out into the area, and go painting.

Hayes: What is plein air?

Rippy: Plein air is "painting outside." It's a French term, painting outdoors. That's what, when we went to this workshop, all these figures were outside, and so it's capturing the light outdoors, painting quick little studies to try to get the feel of where you are and the light before it really does a lot of changing. And there is a group, I think, that is still doing some of that here. But this group of ours did that for several years. And we also worked-- that's kind of how I got into that group, as a matter of fact. Right after Katie [ph?] went to school and I started wanting to get back into my art I took a workshop with Gladys, a watercolor workshop. And I was just struggling and struggling with it. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. And finally Gladys just literally took my hand, this brush which-- I've never had an instructor do this, but I was so glad she did. And she took my hand and dipped it in the paint, and then put it on the paper as in, "This way." Because I was so timid and being so easy with it. And it was like just the window opened up. It was like, "Oh. I can do this. I don't have to do it this way. This is the way you do it." And so with that I started painting a lot more. I used to wear a lot of big hats, and she wanted to paint me with my big hat on and said, "Would you come to St. John's and pose for us." And I didn't know what was-- I said, "What is this?" And she said, "It's a group. We meet every week and we paint some figures." And I said, "Well, yeah, I'll come as long as I can be a part of the group and start painting, too." So that's how I started painting the scenes. And then Betty came one time, I remember, and she used to study with a painter from South Carolina, Alex Powers. And she said Alex was going to Greece and she was looking for somebody to go. And I said, "Well, I'll go." So that was the beginning of it, and that was 16, 17 years ago, and we've been painting together ever since.

Jones: Tell me about the now defunct Art Council, Art Reeves [ph?] and so forth that have come and gone. Weren't you in on the ground floor?

Rippy: Well, I was part of their program, and they asked me to help with the emerging artists, and the emerging-- some of the-- not the, what was it? It was a dispersement of funds that the Arts Council would get to different groups, a grass roots, not the emerging art exhibits, the grass roots, preferable. So I was involved with them in that capacity when Don, I'm drawing a blank, Don-- anyway it'll come to me. But he was the director at the time. And after he left was when they started to paint...

Hayes: Pierce [ph?] or something like that? Langley [ph?] or something like that?

Rippy: I can't remember his name. But then was when it started falling apart. And it was such a shame, because that was a wonderful source. They were real good about keeping up with new artists, having them on file, having their work on file. So if anybody was looking for an artist, that's where they could go and look through all of their books and say, "Well, this is what I'm kind of looking for," and go contact the artist. So I think that's a real loss for this community. That we had so many things going on, but there's no umbrella or...

Hayes: There's not now?

Rippy: Not that I know of.

Jones: We can ask about that.

Hayes: There's something I'm trying to start up, but I don't think it's been recognized.

Rippy: Well, I think UNCW has been a big help in that in their Celebrate Wilmington, that celebrate the arts at Wilmington that they started years ago, I think, when Dr. Leutze [ph?] was here, and that's been going on.

Hayes: You mentioned St. John's. Talk a little bit about it as if we didn't know what it was, for the outsider listening. What was it's role? How did you interact with St. John's as a museum?

Jones: I felt like St. John's was very good to the local artists here. They allowed us to be able to show. They did have at a point where you had to be juried in. I never went through that process, because I don't really know what happened. But all of a sudden they were no longer requiring that. and I had a show with my painting buddies when we came back from France. We had a show there when we came back from the Southwest. The Road to Ghost Ranch was a show that we had there. I had a one-person show in the sales gallery along with Michael Van Houk [ph?]. He and I had a show together there. And so in that respect I felt that they were being good to the artists of Wilmington. They helped promote us and educate the community as to what was available. St. John's, I go back a long way with St. John's in that I took lessons there as a young girl when I was 12 and 13-years old.

Hayes: I wondered if you took lessons outside.

Rippy: Under Hester Donnelly. I took under Hester Donnelly. And also a gentleman named St. Kelly [ph?], who's name is pronounced Kelly, but it's spelled like Cecelia, or Ceilia [ph?]. C-E-I-- I remember thinking that was always unusual. But you pronounced his name Kelly, but it was spelled like Ceilia. But I don't know what ever became of him, him and his wife. So as a child I did participate. Because when I moved to Wilmington there were three restaurants in Wilmington. And...

Jones: One was a cafeteria.

Rippy: Well, no, there wasn't even a cafeteria. There was The Furgis Arc [ph?] down on the rim. There was the New China, and there was Carmen's Italian Restaurant. And that was it, unless you went to...

Jones: Wrightsville Beach?

Rippy: Right, the barbecue. And there was the Marina down at Wrightsville Beach. You could go eat down there. But when we moved here, I had-- we'd moved from Greensboro, and I had been taking dance and wanted to continue that. Well, there was one teacher, and her class was full. So I didn't get to take dance. There were no sports for girls at all. As a matter of fact, when I went to Peace College it was the first time I'd ever seen women play basketball. I did not know women played basketball. And so art was the only thing that-- it was my love, so thankfully there were people here that I could take from and could get involved in.

Hayes: Interesting.

Rippy: It was. There wasn't a whole lot for young girls to do.

Jones: From looking around I see a number of different styles here and landscapes, people, gardens. I love this one up here. I love the bold colors. And I think what you've got over here is charming, your room scene.

Rippy: The one over here? That's the collage. I couple of those works. Uh-huh. Those I did about ten years ago, and I had a show at New Elements. I was inspired by this artist, that I had seen his work. His name's Arlis Day [ph?]. He's out of Sarasota, Florida. And so I've started kind of doing same kinds of things. He would take pictures from magazines and then just kind of create other worldly spaces. I have one that's a bathroom, like a tub that was outside. I'm really kind of a decorator at heart, too. I love to decorate.

Jones: I heard about that, too.

Rippy: That's one of the reasons I have not been painting. But yet, I think when you are an artist at heart, you're going to create wherever you are, in any environment you are. And with my situation in the past four years, I have not created-- I created this, this much art. But that's not a tremendous amount in the amount of time that we've been talking about. But that was when my mother passed away. And then all three of our children got married within a 10-month period. So there was the creativity flowing throughout that. And then the babies started coming and I started building this about the same time, and we built a home in the mountains. So there's been a lot of creative juices flowing, it just hadn't been coming out to end up in my hand. (laughs)

Hayes: I mean, you must know some of the design community. Are there a lot of similarities? Do you see them as artists many times, as a true designer?

Rippy: Oh, I do.

Hayes: In fact you may even have to take the same kind of courses from them.

Rippy: I do. I really do. I've known a lot of architects that when they retire from their architecture, then they will get into fine art because they have the skills.

Hayes: And the eye.

Rippy: The eye, and the skill and the perspective and all. The only problem with that at some point is if they are wanting to break out of that rigid-- you know, when you're architect you've got to be on the money. You've got to get it just right. And so for them to want to transition into a looser style, it's hard for them sometimes. But...

Hayes: I think Carroll was trying to get to, do you have a favorite subject?

Jones: She's very eclectic. You can see over there the Dome of St. Mary. Hester Donnelly, of course, is known for doing one that in fact we used for some advertising I put on fliers or pamphlets for that stone when it was made a shrine. And she's done a number of things that I could recognize.

Rippy: But that is in Italy. That's an Italian piece.

Jones: That's a man thing. But it does. It looks just like St. Mary's.

Rippy: That one and this one down here, all of those were out of my bedroom window when we studied in Italy. I had this just wonderful window that just opened, a big wooden window that just opened right up. And so I painted a night scene there, and I'd done it several times when I would get there.

Jones: Where were you in Italy?

Rippy: We went to three areas. One was Luca, which is near the Mediterranean Riviera. Then we were in Venice for a week, and we were in La Foce, which is a beautiful garden that was at one point a monastery back during the war, I do believe, but has now been turned into some beautiful gardens. And that's down in-- near Siena, in that area.

Hayes: As you mentioned Europe, some of the artists have commented about light is different. Is there really a difference?

Rippy: Well, you know, in France I felt like it was.

Jones: Were you in the South of France?

Rippy: We were in the South of France. Our trip to Italy, I would not say that. But I think we were there at a bad time. I think the weather was just not good for us. You would think in a total of three weeks you would have at least some good weather. And we never had rain, but it was just kind of overcast the whole time. I mean, we were there in October, which is supposed to be a great...

Jones: In October, or early spring, that's what happens.

Rippy: Mm-hm. But I guess we just picked the wrong year. I don't know. But, yeah, the light in France really is extraordinary.

Hayes: I don't see a lot of ocean. You haven't chosen to do the typical.

Rippy: Isn't that funny?

Hayes: No, that's fine.

Rippy: I don't know why. I think if I were to do the ocean, I'd want to do the ocean in California where there are rocks, where's there's something else happening other than just...

Jones: Up in Northern California.

Rippy: Yeah, or in Maine, or in that area. And maybe it's because I just see it every day that I just-- but I've never been-- I've done a couple of little watercolors of them, but I've never-- it's just never been-- I love flowers. I love gardens, and landscape, and people, figures.

Hayes: When you moved to the watercolor side, are you planning on using intense colors? Because your oil is obviously very colorful.

Rippy: These are my watercolors over here. And I think they're pretty vibrant. I think some of them are.

Jones: I couldn't help but notice this. Very interesting.

Hayes: So there's a consistency there of style that says bright colors.

Rippy: Of the bright colors. Mm-hm.

Hayes: Because sometimes I think watercolor almost gets a bad name of being washed out. Those are not.

Rippy: Oh, you can get watercolor to look almost like an oil, almost right of the tube. I've seen some artists that have really used them that way.

Jones: Jodie, do you work only for yourself? Do you work on consignment? Do you work commercially at all?

Rippy: I've done prints for this A Festival. I've done two of their prints for them. I have done commission work in the past, and then I just decided that life was too short. I wasn't getting enough work done anyway, and I wanted to paint what I wanted to paint. So I really pretty much have quit doing commissions, although a couple of close friends have asked me to do some things and I'm going to do those for them.

Hayes: What would it entail with the commission? Does the person have a subject in mind?

Rippy: They have a subject in mind that they want me to come paint.

Hayes: But they don't need an exact replica?

Rippy: Well, see, that's the problem. Sometimes that's the problem. You have in your mind one vision, and they have in their mind another vision, and sometimes it doesn't gel. And then you have to keep working, and working and working to get it to where the way they want it. Or sometimes they're just thrilled with whatever you've done. But a lot of times you will get people that have a specific, you know-- if the house is blue, they want it blue rather than...

Hayes: It's a contract of sorts then.

Rippy: Yes. Mm-hm.

Hayes: Is it commercial art, almost?

Rippy: It is. That is very...

Jones: In a way.

Rippy: In a way it is commissioned.

Hayes: Fine art is almost like commercial art.

Rippy: Very, very close. You're right.

Hayes: On all these ones you did here of your own, no one was suggesting what you should paint.

Rippy: No. Mm-mm. All of these I did because something in the-- what I was looking at drew me to it. And there was a reason. Either it was the way the light hit on the building. This was actually from a photograph that I took in France. This was the market at Apt. And I actually took different figures from different photographs and positioned it to create that scene.

Jones: So how do people see your work? Do you have shows? Exhibits?

Rippy: I have shows that are at the galleries that I show in, the three galleries in the state. I've had shows at all of those.

Hayes: What galleries are you showing in now?

Rippy: In New Elements downtown, Tyler White Gallery, which is in Greensboro, North Carolina, and City Gallery in Greenville, North Carolina. So those three galleries. I have shown with them for several years. And actually...

Hayes: Tell us a little bit of what that's about. Is the work you're sending to them framed, or is it unframed?

Rippy: It's ready to go. And they just put it in with the rest of their pieces. And usually about every six months we would trade out. If something hasn't sold I'll take it, and take it to another gallery, or move it around and eventually bring it back here.

Jones: Is it your choice what you send out?

Rippy: Yes. Mm-hm. City Gallery has been known to come to town, and will come by and pick up some things. They've done that before.

Hayes: Do you have any sense of what's been popular? It must be an interesting idea of what people buy.

Rippy: Interesting, because the galleries, too, will do the same kind of thing that commissions will do. You know, I remember sending one, one time, which was an interior. And the minute it got there it sold. And so that gallery owner was, "Do more interiors," you know. And I'm going...

Jones: How about professional groups like banks, or buildings?

Rippy: As a matter of fact, I have a whole collection in Atlanta with, I think it's Wachovia Bank, one of their subsidiaries. And I've got it written, it was years ago when I did it and I can't remember where. Let me see if I can tell you exactly where it is. I hope I have it in here. It should be in here. First Union Securities in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hayes: So they bought a large set, then.

Rippy: They bought about 25 pieces.

Jones: Not First Union per se, but the banks.

Rippy: The banks. Mm-hm.

Jones: Particularly their home offices.

Rippy: This was a gentleman that I knew who was opening a new office. He was one of their security officers, and he suggested to them that that would be a good source, and it was great. So I packaged them all up and shipped them down there. And I have yet to go see where they're hanging. So I need to go that.

Jones: We've talked about where your art is exhibited or where you sold it around North Carolina, now Atlanta. Are you known primarily in the South? How about north of up here?

Rippy: I have not had any shows outside of North Carolina. I had some work that people have bought from the galleries here that are...

Jones: Taken it home.

Rippy: Taken it home, in Pennsylvania, just all over. DC, Europe, I have some pieces in Europe even. But as far as having a show...

Hayes: Do you keep track of where it goes, or do you lose track?

Rippy: I try to. Sometimes the galleries will not tell you who buys your work ...

Jones: How not fair...

Rippy: Well, that's just-- they're afraid I think that you will go and try to solicit these...

Jones: Oh how silly...

Rippy: So, I've had a talk with them a couple of times and they're getting better about it. They don't give me the address, but they'll tell me the people's names. Plus, it's very embarrassing to me if it's someone here locally that buys it and I didn't know. You know, I'd like to be able to thank them. So, you know, it goes both ways with that.

Hayes: Now you were in a position financially that wasn't pivotal that you sell your work, and yet that's kind of the measure of an artist that someone buys it. So is there still that element?

Rippy: Well, there was especially in the beginning. I think it gives credibility to you as an artist if someone is willing to buy your work. As I get older, and as you say, I don't have to financially, I think there will come a time-- I would like to see a time when I can take this gift that the Lord has given me and be able to have more shows and have them for other-- for me not to take the money, but to give them to charity.

Jones: I think you're in a very interesting position. Because, in a way you're freed from the trauma, or from the nervousness of, "I have to make it, I have to make it," and becoming a little more commercial. You can do what you want.

Rippy: It's a blessing. It really is.

Jones: You know, really let whatever is in there come out easily.

Rippy: You're exactly right.

Hayes: But that's a good idea. But the point is that in the end it seems that you have to create it, but you really want someone to see it don't you? I mean, I am an amateur photographer and I take a lot of pictures, but the joy is even if someone doesn't like it, that is better than just...

Rippy: Right. Than it just hiding in the closet...

Hayes: That's always the intention for the artist. I mean its creative, right?

Rippy: It is creative. I think that's where the beauty of where a gallery comes in, because they're the middle man and you don't have to deal with that. That's not the most comfortable thing for me. I'm not a sales person. I never have been. I've never done well in any organization with trying to sell somebody on something. So, I do sell out of the studio. People will come in and it's kind of an awkward thing for me.

Jones: I can imagine.

Rippy: But what I would like to do, and I'm in the process of it now, my son in law is a real computer-- he's very computer savvy. That's his business. That's what he does, and he is going to do a Web site for me.

Hayes: Oh that's a good idea.

Rippy: What I would like to do is to still continue to have my relationship with the galleries, but put work on this Web site, and send out cards, and tell people every three or four months to go on there. Things have changed. Look on there and see if there is anything that interests you. If it does, then come by and we go from there.

Jones: Yes. I think that's terrific.

Hayes: I've talked to lots of artists. This is a really creative product. It's not your child, and it's something you've done. And then to have somebody come in and just make some flippant remark about, "Well, I don't like the oranges in that or whatever," it can be painful right, because you've worked so hard on this.

Rippy: I guess it used to a long time-- I've become pretty thick skinned. I feel like a lot of times, it's their loss. (laughs) You know, if they don't get it then that's their problem. Not mine. (laughs)

Jones: I can see you more diversified than just one particular style. I want to ask you your opinion about something. There seems to be, up until the last 10 years when the population of this area just exploded, an abundant number of artists of various types, right here in what my husband used to call, "sleepy little Wilmington." He can afford to say it because he grew up here. He no longer thinks that way. What do you attribute to that? Is it the light? What do you think?

Hayes: There are hundreds of artists.

Jones: There must be. It's like a mecca here.

Rippy: I wonder if it was because certain people came at certain times and brought with them the love. I mean, Claude Howell was born and raised here, and he was so instrumental in St. John's and in the art program out there. A lot of communities don't have a Claude Howell or a, what was her name, Chant...

Hayes: Or Elizabeth Chant who was earlier than Claude.

Rippy: ...who came before Claude and kind of established a...

Jones: She had a school here, but it was very definitely her own style.

Rippy: It was her own style, right. But yet, there were people that wanted to do that. I think a lot of times people would like to get involved in something like that or are drawn to it, but don't know how; don't have the avenue. And if there's somebody there that, you know, brings it to the forefront and says, "I'll teach you, I'll be the leader..."

Hayes: Some teacher's make a difference.

Jones: I wonder too, if it isn't in spite of the fact that this was a small area. You had beaches. You had a river. You had plantations. You had cotton fields.

Rippy: You had picturesque.

Jones: You had the historic downtown area, riverboats, all these different things. And the weather for living here was sort of an added plus I suppose.

Rippy: I think so too.

Jones: I don't know.

Hayes: Well, I think a lot of the artists now are moving here partly because of location and light, and weather. But they've found already an existing group of people like you and others.

Rippy: Well, I think that is a lot of it. They're nice. There are good art societies. There's the college. The university is such a wonderful support to artists, (coughs) excuse me, and with Cape Fear Community College downtown. And just, like you say, the historic downtown area. There's just a lot going on here with the movie industry especially. That brought a lot of creative people, and those people are creative. They might be filmmakers, but they might paint on the side as well.

Hayes: You said New Elements is the one that you have worked with? Now they've been there for a long time.

Rippy: They've been there a long time. I don't know how long.

Hayes: Over 20 years. That's amazing.

Rippy: They have been one of the few that have survived. There have been a lot that have come and gone.

Hayes: It's a tough business.

Rippy: And Mary Ellen's done a good job with keeping it...

Hayes: And you mention that all kinds of people buy from you. Do you find that the people that the people who move here are attracted to the local scenes?

Rippy: You mean the local visual scenes to buy versus...

Hayes: Yes.

Rippy: I think if I were in more of a commercial realm of trying to sell prints and do a lot, I would do more of-- because I think that's true. And especially the tourists. I think the tourists would buy. But I don't find my...

Hayes: I guess Mary Ellen Golden has done a good job to...

Rippy: Yes. But I find that my clientele is not coming to me to look for a specific something from downtown. They aren't coming to me thinking that, "I'm going to find a picture of the beach." They just know that I'm a painter and they've seen my work and like my work, and so they'll come and look. And that's why I think I'm pretty thick-skinned about it. Because I know how art is such a subjective thing that you-- it speaks to you. You either know it's for you and that's the piece you want or, you know, "I don't see anything today but I'll be back." You know.

Jones: You paint really what you want to do.

Rippy: I paint what I want to.

Jones: That's what you have to do. I noticed one thing. You don't do portraiture?

Rippy: I have done some portraits. I prefer not to. I would rather do a figurative piece that you would know who they are just by the way they carry themselves.

Jones: I've seen that. Yes, that's interesting.

Hayes: Is that what figurative means?

Rippy: Yeah. Uh-huh. I think I'll probably do a couple little portraits of my grandchildren.

Jones: I'm sure you will.

Rippy: But I'm just not-- I don't...

Hayes: Well, it's a different skill set right? I mean there are some people who can do that, but...

Rippy: And I find they are very time consuming and very labor-intensive because it has to be-- you've got to be right on. Whereas a landscape or florals, or whatever, you can play with it. Now architecture, you've got to be pretty-- you can't-- the roofline can't sag or lean. You know, you've got to have your perspective right.

Hayes: You had used the term impressionism with your own description. Are there particular artists that you even today in history, always go back to look at?

Rippy: Some of my favorites are like Joaquin Sorolla, he is a Spanish impressionist. I've got a book I think here of his work I'll show ya'll later on if you want. And his is very representational. It's the impressionist-- it's almost like John Singer Sargent; very, very painterly, like Sargent painted. As far as color, like Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Tebo, those would be more in today's time.

Jones: Those are they, aren't they?

Rippy: Yes.

Rippy: These are all right, real quick, but...

Jones: Do you have anything that you want to do at the time?

Hayes: 10 minutes, we have about 10 minutes.

Jones: Okay, that's fine.

Rippy: Anything that I want to do...

Jones: As far as work.

Rippy: I would like to paint some big pieces.

Jones: I was going to ask you.

Rippy: I did this studio, was so I could paint big, and...

Hayes: It's a different challenge.

Rippy: Yeah. I had a studio at the beach, which was what I used until we moved here. I had the little studio at home, and then went to the backyard, on the garage apartment, and then moved to the beach when we moved down there in a room that is a nice-sized room, but it's still was up in the attic area, so the ceilings were kind of low, and here. And I had done some like four by four pieces there.

Hayes: Four feet?

Rippy: Four feet. And I enjoyed working on them, but it was kind of crowded there to. So that was one of the main reasons I did the studio as high as it is, so I can do some big pieces. So, I've just got to get around to do that.

Jones: I only think of big pieces as being very impressionistic or modern art type. You don't do anything like that, do you?

Rippy: Mm-hm.

Jones: You do?

Rippy: No, no I don't, so it's going to be interesting to see... (laughs)

Jones: It would be interesting to see you do a garden, or an outdoor market that's 4 by 4 or larger.

Hayes: A question I always have for the artist is, you do this out of the inner desire to create an image. And yet, the person who buys it takes it and uses it for such different purposes and reasons. Do you let it go? Is it gone when it's gone? Because, maybe it's a decorative element.

Rippy: It's gone, when it's gone. But it's so nice to know that somebody wanted it and appreciates it, and it's going to hang in their home, and their excited about it, and I'm excited that they have it.

Hayes: But you don't still possess it, you don't want to know which room they had it in.

Rippy: No, I don't ask anymore about it. But I always document them before they go, so I've got a picture of it still and I can go back and kind of thumb through and see. I've got a bunch of catalogs up there that I've got pictures of work I've done in the past.

Jones: And you can't duplicate it?

Rippy: I can't duplicate it, I have tried. I have tried. As a matter of fact there's a funny story about one of the pieces, for the A Festival poster. I think we threw it out, the original painting. We took it, we had it rolled up in a tube, took it, had it scanned to have the print made, came back, Brola Cobb [ph?] was the president that year, and the president was going to get the original piece. I couldn't find it anywhere. And never to this day found it. I know my husband threw it away, he says he didn't. I know he threw it away. It was a real light day because it's on this light piece of canvas...

Jones: He thought it was just trash.

Rippy: So I had to take the print and paint another one from the print.

Jones: What year was this?

Rippy: This was '98 or '99, it's in there somewhere, I can't remember what year it was, but I had to recreate the whole thing. (laughs)

Jones: Well, see that would be a collector's item.

Hayes: If you could find it.

Rippy: If you could find it, I don't know where it is. (laughs)

Jones: The posters themselves I imagine, too.

Rippy: The only other thing I've done, is the Peace College, and I brought this to show you how they have incorporated-- I did their main building for them when Laura Bingham became their president. And their office manager sent me these the other day with a sweet note in there saying, "See how we're using your main over and over." So they've got it on the calendar, they've used it over the years.

Hayes: This was the commissioned work you did.

Rippy: Yes, this was for Peace College when they got their new president.

Rippy: And so, and they even put it on a scarf, so...

Jones: Oh, how wonderful. A silk screen?

Hayes: See a commercial whether you want to or not.

Jones: This is something that came from the heart.

Rippy: Yes, this is my alma mater, so I was thrilled to be able to do that.

Hayes: I think Gladys did a couple for a university like that, too.

Rippy: She did. It was beautiful. Yeah.

Hayes: We have about five minutes.

Jones: Is there anything you want to tell us that we don't know? Talk about what you want to do, what you haven't done.

Rippy: Well, the big, I think it's something that I really would like to do.

Jones: Jodie goes big.

Rippy: Yeah. I had made some little notes. Let me make sure I have covered everything that I wanted to tell you.

Hayes: We can start another tape, too.

Rippy: No, no that's fine. You were asking about community involvement. Right about the time I built this was when we did-- I worked with Dreams, and we did an art studio tour called Creative Spaces, which was a fundraiser, to raise money for the Dream's program.

Jones: Now this was Stacy?

Rippy: Tracy.

Jones: I'm sorry, Tracy Wilkes.

Rippy: Tracy Wilkes. Mm-hm.

Hayes: That's a great program.

Rippy: And it was real successful. We had a great time doing it. And I had hoped that they would want to do it like every other year, and I hope that maybe they will. It's not that much work. We got a lot of their children to do a lot of the work for the posters, and for the cards, and for the tickets and all that kind of thing, so. But that, and then I was instrumental with my church. We did a new children's program coming in, and so we painted murals on all of the walls. There were 9 feet by 50, four different times.

Jones: And the children did some of this?

Rippy: No, the children didn't do it, I designed it and put it up on the-- used a opaque projector, to put it up on the wall, then we sketched it out. And then I solicited the artist within our church. We've got five or six good artists in our-- at First Presbyterian, so they all helped. And so that was a lot of fun and it's wonderful to see those children over there enjoying...

Jones: What is this group you started in honor of your mother?

Rippy: That, actually I didn't start that. An acquaintance of my mother did. My mother was in the women's group in our church.

Hayes: What was your mother's name?

Rippy: Her name was Rushy [ph?], Ruth Wrenn, and they called her Rushy.

Hayes: And that's your maiden name as well?

Rippy: Wrenn. Mm-hm. She ended up befriending a friend of this lady's because she kind of fell through the cracks. And mother took her to our church to see if we could help her with benevolence, but she had X amount of money, so she wouldn't fit anywhere. So mother just kind of took her under her wing and saw her through her illness, put her in a nursing home. She didn't like it. Took her out of the nursing home and then took her back, eventually the woman died. And so her friend that lived in Texas, being so appreciative of mama, sent some money to their women's group. And so when my mother passed away, I asked that all the monies come in, go to that group. And then we started a group within our church that's called the Ruth Ministries Fund, where we do different works out of that fund, and we have the Ruth Forum every year. But we have different groups come in and talk to our congregation about people who are falling through the cracks, or needs that are not being addressed. And this year we had Make Way Partners, I don't know if you are familiar with them. It's a woman out of Alabama who just felt that the Lord just put this on her heart when she and her husband were in Portugal. He was a minister, and they went out to some children's, what's the word, an orphanage, to help with the children. Well they realized the children were being abused. Bottom line, they found out they were being-- they were slaves. So they've gotten-- Make Way Partners is a Christian organization helping to combat slavery with children all over the country and the world, so.

Jones: Well, you've been very active This has been marvelous, I could sit here another hour. As you speak questions keep coming up, but it's redundant. Thank you for having us.

Rippy: Thank you for wanting to come.

Jones: And I look forward to seeing, I'm going to go down to New Elements as soon as I can.

Rippy: Well, there's not a whole lot there, that's the thing. Like I told you, these past four years have been kind of a hiatus, except for when I traveled, or just a couple of thing now and then. But starting this fall, I'm turning over a new leaf, I'm getting on back, and I'm going to have studio hours.

Hayes: And we were here to hear it.

Rippy: You are.

Hayes: Thanks a lot.

Rippy: Thank you so much.

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