Two years after the death of Ruth Davis, a professor in the School of Human Ecology, her legacy continues with a gift from the Davis’ estate to the school.
University of Wisconsin School of Human Ecology recently received a gift of $4.6 million from the Davis’ estate, which will be put towards the preexisting gallery named in her honor, according to a UW statement. UW opened the Ruth Davis Design Gallery in 2011, after Davis’s death at the age of 101 years old, according to Soyeon Shim, School of Human Ecology dean.
“The gift provides a gallery for students and others to present their work to the public. For students it is an integral experience in the transition from the academic to the professional world,” Virginia Boyd, a human ecology professor said in an email to The Badger Herald.
The gallery exhibits both UW students’ work and professional textile collections, Shim said. With more than 12,000 pieces, it has one of the biggest collections in an academic field, she said. She said students can gather information and learn more from what is shown.
Shim said the gallery hosts different themes, and that it currently has a South East Asian theme.
“It signifies to the future generations that we have Ruth’s legacy and all of her work.” Shim said. “It’s like a dream for design students to have their work exhibited. If we didn’t have it we wouldn’t have that. The experience of doing it is getting them one step ahead of the game.”
Davis wanted students to reach their full creative potential, especially through studying the natural world, Boyd said. This gallery was created for students to show their work and inspire others, she said.
Davis was a professor at UW from 1943 to 1975, Shim said.
“I never met her, I missed her by one year, but I heard she was a pretty amazing professor and so I really wish I had met her,” Shim said. “Students loved her.”
Davis taught anything from fashion design to textile design, Boyd said. She was a painter who experimented with methods of painting on textiles, she said.
Davis was very passionate and also a world-traveler, Shim said. She traveled to Europe and Central America in the 1930s, and Shim said Davis went to these places to record contemporary design and design technology.
Shim said Davis gained her professional skills through travel, and brought her skills back to students at the university through teaching.
Aside from teaching, Davis also did scholarly work, made connections to the community and lectured throughout the Wisconsin area, Shim said. There was a growth in the ‘50s and ‘60s in design majors, where Davis helped, she said.
Boyd also said Davis’s work was included in the national exhibition Objects U.S.A, which is one of the first exhibitions to bring serious attention to the media of craft.
Many alumni have donated money to the gallery, solely because Davis made such a big impact on them, Shim said.
“We are hoping that for next summer we are able to have various alumni showcase their work in the gallery. We have some very talented alumni that could really influence future generations,” Shim said.