Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Ruth Waters poses with one of her wood sculptures she created in her studio.
A “deep commitment to art” in the local community is the reason Ruth Waters, founder and executive director of the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame, is what landed her as the woman of year for the 13th Senate District.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, presented the award to Waters. Hill named Waters Woman of the Year because he said she has been such a force in the community, tirelessly advocating on behalf of art and artists.
“She is dedicated to making art accessible to everyone,” Hill said in a statement. “Ruth Waters has demonstrated unparalleled leadership by serving as a guiding light to the Peninsula Museum of Art, the 1870 Art Center in Belmont and the Peninsula Chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art.”
Waters graduated from Stanford University with a degree in journalism and went on to work at Sunset Magazine, while sculpting at the same time. She has also been painting for the last 10 years. In 1977, she opened working art studios in Belmont. Originally, she wanted to name it the “Cuckoo’s Nest” since it was a former psych ward.
“The city didn’t think it was funny,” she laughed.
Then, in 1985, she moved the studio to a former school site when the city wanted to use her original site for a senior and community center. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake is what helped move the need for cultural amenities to the Peninsula from San Francisco. The Peninsula was also no longer a collection of bedroom communities with the expansion of high-tech and biotech along the Peninsula, she said.
“The earthquake disrupted people’s patterns of going to San Francisco for their art fix,” said Waters, who has three children and three grandchildren. “Children needed exposure to the arts, it’s part of brain development and helps with reading and math.”
About a year ago, her museum in Burlingame opened after about $800,000 worth of renovations were done. This only was able to happen after a man named Charles Homer donated $1 million to launch a building fund. The museum now hosts 28 artists that include artists from China, Germany, Iran, England and the Netherlands.
“It’s so good for people in general to see real art being made by real artists,” she said. “What’s different about this place is it’s not a result of a wealthy collector with lots of money trying to build a museum out of his taste. … Kids will run out and say ‘mommy, mommy, I just saw a real artist!’ The power of real artwork is so much greater than a picture in a magazine.”
Instead, there are hat makers, sculptors, painters of various styles, photographers and others. Waters tries to keep the studios filled with an eclectic mix of artists. The fact the museum has working studios for sculptors is rare, she said. The museum also offers art courses and workshops to the community.
The most important thing to Waters is creating a cultural resource.
“My favorite part of the job is creating something that I think is very important,” she said. “I see things in 3-D, so it wasn’t hard for me to visualize the building.”
New exhibits will be coming to the museum, located at 1777 California Drive in Burlingame, May 18. For more information visit peninsulamuseum.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105