Crocker to Celebrate Innovative Northern California Ceramist, Educator Ruth Rippon in Exhibition Spanning 50 Years of her Life's Work

Sacramento, Calif. – UPDATED October 27, 2017 – On October 29, 2017, the Crocker Art Museum will open a wide-ranging exhibition of ceramics by Ruth Rippon, as the Museum honors the vanguard ceramist and teacher who has been integral in shaping the Northern California ceramics tradition. Featuring 90 pieces from the 1950s through the 1990s, Exuberant Earth: Ceramics by Ruth Rippon collectively demonstrates the breadth of the 90-year-old artist’s prolific and influential career.

Born in 1927 in Sacramento, California, Ruth Rippon first explored her talent in art while attending McClatchy Senior High School and Sacramento City College. However, it was during her undergraduate studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College of the Arts), that Rippon began to fully develop her virtuosic techniques in clay handing.

Known for her insatiable curiosity, Rippon’s appetite for experimenting is manifested in an extraordinary diversity of styles, forms, and subject matter. In the realm of vessel-making, Rippon proved an early innovator of sgraffito-through-engobe drawing, a technique by which the artist scratches through the top layer of color to reveal a contrasting color beneath. This appears in many of Rippon’s works in the exhibition, and was a method that many ceramists of her era came to favor. Rippon’s years of study in painting sparked what art historian Ruth Holland described as “a strong inclination to treat a pot surface as a shaped canvas.”[1]

In 1956, Rippon accepted a faculty position at Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento; also known as Sacramento State). As the only woman in a male-dominated department, she built a strong ceramics program during an era of expanding educational opportunities in the arts. A leading mentor to a new group of artists working in clay, Rippon taught hundreds of students during her 31-year tenure, and many of her students advanced to become accomplished ceramists and instructors themselves.

Throughout her career, Rippon inspired young talent, devoting decades to ceramics instruction in the Bay Area and in her native Sacramento, where her advancement in the field had its greatest effect.

“Like many artists, Ruth Rippon was influenced by art history as well as contemporary movements like Pop Art, Minimalism, and Funk Art, but she found her own voice and became an innovator, playing a major role in elevating the craft of ceramics into the realm of fine art,” says the Crocker Art Museum’s Associate Curator, Kristina Gilmore. “Northern California’s longstanding renown as a ceramics center owes much to her, for her unique talent and vision, as well as her determination and resilience. She’s a mentor to hundreds and a trail blazer for individual ceramists and for the field as a whole.”

A study in Rippon’s extensive repertoire of techniques, Exuberant Earth: Ceramics by Ruth Rippon reveals the artist’s range in sgraffito, relief modeling, majolica, porcelain, and sculpture. Rippon’s earlier works show the artist’s connection to spiritual themes, Biblical tales, mythological beings, and every day personal interactions. Her innate talent for storytelling is especially evident in her figural groupings, art history tableaux, and Pop Art-inspired objects. Altogether, her work testifies to the creative surge in ceramics that occurred during the 1960s and 70s, and which endures today.

Featuring small examples of her figurative work, the exhibition gives a nod to the large-scaled figures of women known as Lollies, short for “Little Old Ladies,” which became a focus in the latter years of Rippon’s career and are displayed in public spaces throughout the greater Sacramento area. The exhibition also explores Rippon’s responses to contemporary events, developments in art, and the work of her regional colleagues.

Exuberant Earth will be on view at the Crocker Art Museum from October 29, 2017, through February 4, 2018. It will be accompanied by a 160-page, full-color catalogue with an introduction by Kristina Gilmore and an essay by Jo Lauria.

This exhibition and its catalogue are made possible through generous support from Creative Arts League Sacramento (CALS), an organization co-founded by ten women in 1952 to bring outstanding works of local contemporary artists to the community. Ruth Rippon joined CALS in 1957 and, 60 years later, she is still a prominent member of the organization.

High-resolution images and a captions list are available for members of the media upon request.

Karen Christian
Media Relations Associate, Crocker Art Museum

(More information and links to register at

November 2, 2017, 6 PM
$5 Members, $12 Nonmembers
Tour Exuberant Earth: Ceramics by Ruth Rippon with Crocker Associate Curator Kristina Gilmore. Designed for art novices and ceramic lovers alike, this intimate walk-through will deepen viewers’ appreciation of Rippon and offer an expanded understanding of California ceramic art.

November 11 & 12, 2017, 10:30 AM – 3 PM
$135 Members, $145 Nonmembers (does not include firing)
Inspired by Ruth Rippon’s larger-than-life sculptures of the little old ladies she dubbed “Lollies,” this class will offer students an understanding of the different stages of clay and how to halt the drying process so that works can be sculpted over a period of time. Participants will learn basic hand-building techniques (slab, coil, pinch) to create a table-size sculpture. Students are invited to take their sculptures to Alpha Fired Arts for firing, the final stage of the ceramic process. Educators receive free instruction materials.

November 19, 2017, 1 – 3 PM
$35 Members, $50 Nonmembers. Includes two drink tickets.
View the exhibition Exuberant Earth: Ceramics by Ruth Rippon, and experiment with the versatility of clay. Learn hand-building techniques while you play with air-dry clay and create a tabletop sculpture.

December 5, 2017, 12 & 1 PM
Free for Members, free with general admission for Nonmembers
Join an in-depth examination of a single work of art, Ruth Rippon, First Ladies Blocks 1968. Before or after the 30-minute gallery conversation, take time to enjoy lunch at the Crocker Cafe by Supper Club.

December 9, 2017, 2 – 3 PM
$8 Members, $12 Nonmembers
In honor of the exhibition Exuberant Earth: Ceramics by Ruth Rippon, hear from ceramics expert and historian Jo Lauria about this important and widely loved art form, and how Rippon's imaginative and groundbreaking work fits into the broader history of ceramics as a modern art form. A curator and lead writer for the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, Ms. Lauria has a BA in art history from Yale University and an MFA in fine arts with a ceramics major from Otis College of Art and Design.

THEATRE + ART: PLAY WITH CLAY (Inspired by the Art of Ruth Rippon)
January 7, 2018, 1 – 3 PM
$25 members, $40 nonmembers.
Designed for families with youth ages 7 and older, all participants have an opportunity to learn and grow together as they explore fine and performing art forms. Families will discover the Crocker’s permanent collection of ceramics and explore the process of hand building with air-dry clay. Later, Circa’s acrobats, singers, and musicians will delight everyone with a circus-themed escapade at the Mondavi Center. Transportation is not provided.

January 13, 2018, 10:30 AM12:30 PM
Per session: $15 Members, $20 Nonmembers
Designed for children ages 7–12 with busy schedules, enroll your child in this session, or several sessions of our winter Material Explosion series. In each session, students will bring an artwork to conclusion, ready to take home.
January 13 Session: Make a clay sculpture inspired by Sacramento ceramist Ruth Rippon.

The Crocker Art Museum features the world’s foremost display of California art and is renowned for its holdings of European master drawings and international ceramics. The Crocker serves as the primary regional resource for the study and appreciation of fine art and holds permanent collections of Californian, European, Asian, African, and Oceanic art, works on paper, ceramics, and photography. The Museum offers a diverse spectrum of exhibitions, events, and programs to augment its collections, including films, concerts, studio classes, lectures, children’s activities, and more. The Museum has also dedicated the historic building’s entire first floor as an education center, which includes four classrooms, space for student and community exhibitions, the Gerald Hansen Library, and Tot Land. More information about exhibits and programs at or (916) 808-7000. The Museum is open to the public Tuesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 5 PM and Thursdays, 10 AM – 9 PM. The Museum is closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Every third Sunday of the month is “Pay What You Wish Sunday” sponsored by Western Health Advantage.

[1] Ruth A. Holland, Ruth Rippon (Sacramento, CA: E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, 1971), p. 7.

Cover image: Ruth Rippon sculpting Camille in the ceramics studio at Sacramento State, 1982.