Leonard Ruder: Evidence of a Life's Work

Leonard Ruder: Evidence of a Life's Work

Lise Harwin
Aug 7, 2008

Every once in a while, we read an article that simply blows us away. Last January, we picked up The Oregonian and found a piece about artistically-reclusive Leonard Ruder, said to be "among the best artists ever to pick up a brush in Portland."

If the name isn't familiar, it's because Ruder made his living as a school custodian and kept hundreds of bold, abstract paintings hidden away in his basement. They only saw the light of day when his daughter, Rhea, determined that it would be wonderful for others to see his accomplishments while he was still alive.

The now 91-year-old Ruder explains his privacy by saying, "I love to paint, but it's still something very personal." But, according to the article, "his family and friends indicate that Ruder needs painting the way people need air. It engages his mind, fills his heart and keeps him breathing."

After attending Detroit's Cranbrook Academy of Art, Ruder went on to display some early paintings in a traveling exhibit through Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. He participated in a handful of exhibits and placed about 140 paintings in the Portland Art Museum's rental sales gallery. But that was it.

Silas Cook, of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College, initially wasn't interested in what he thought would be a "hobby painter." Instead, he found "one of the most astounding collections I had seen, certainly in Portland. I knew that this work needed to be seen, and it was of a caliber that it wouldn't be hard to find a venue."

That venue tuned out to be Maryhurst University's Art Gym, which displayed "Leonard Ruder: Evidence of a Life's Work," earlier this year.

While we missed the show, we were still moved by the story. And though we're not sure where we'll find it, we hope that one day we'll end up with a Ruder painting in our personal collection.

Images: The Oregonian, Marylhurst University

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