Ruby C. Williams
2005 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Ruby C. Williams (1928-2022), a native of the historic African American town of Bealsville in Hillsborough County, was known for her vibrant paintings. Her art decorated the self-built market that stood alongside a field of fruits and vegetables that she grew herself using time-tested methods. Her harvests included black-eyed peas, broccoli, onions, turnips strawberries, watermelons, collard greens, mandarins, and many other fruits and vegetables. Bealsville was founded by five freed slaves, one of whom was Mary Reddick, Williams’ great-grandmother. As a result, Williams had a deep sense of attachment to the land.
Williams grew up during the Depression and knows what it is like to live with little. She picked oranges and strawberries, drove a tractor, and later married and raised four children. After moving to New Jersey in the 1950s, she drove a bus, became a minister, and founded a church. In the early 1980s, she returned to Florida to farm. To make her small farm successful, she opened a produce stand and painted signs to attract visitors. Once Williams began painting, she discovered that she had a great deal to communicate. Her paintings often feature philosophical or whimsical sayings and a colorful variety of regular characters. In recent years, she became nationally known as a visionary artist and has been featured in books and in exhibitions around the nation, including the Smithsonian Institution.
Williams’ values centered on hard work, problem solving, close family ties and a strong religious faith. She believed she was meant to heal and minister through her produce, her artwork, and her community space. Although her work is in private collections and galleries all over the world, she remained as interested in selling produce as in selling art.