The Art of Ruth Linnell Berry

From Menotomy Minutes, Winter 2002

Ruth Linnell Berry was born in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1909. The Berry Family had been in eastern Massachusetts for many years. Her great grandfather had enlisted in the Union Forces during the Civil War from Somerville; her grandfather was a prosperous Boston engraver. Ruth’s father was an engineering professor at MIT. The Berry family eventually moved to Lexington (1088 Massachusetts Avenue).

Ruth attended Boston University graduating in 1928. She later attended Radcliffe College graduating in 1930 with a master’s degree in art. Miss Berry continued her art training, studying with Justine Ferns 1930, Charles Hopkinson (at the Child-Walker School) 1930-1931, Frederic King 1931, Martin Mower (Harvard University), Leslie Thompson 1931-33, Otis Philbrick, 1933-35, Richard Lahey and Eugen Weiss, (at the Corcoran Art School, Washington, D.C.) in 1935, Robert Brackman, (in Noank, CT), in 1940, and Aldro Hibbard, (in Rockport, MA), 1940.

On January 12 1933 Ruth Berry was elected as one of the first woman members of the Boston Art Club. Lilla Cabot Perry, Eleanor W. Motley, Lillian Wescott Hale, Laura L. Hills, and Marguerite S. Pearson were all elected to membership on the same occasion. Ruth Berry’s other memberships included the North Shore Art Association, the Springfield Art League, the New Hampshire Art Association, and the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society. She lived and worked at the Fenway Studios in Boston for many years.

In 1937 she took a 12,000 mile “sketching trip” through the United States. On this trip she produced many of her most inspired watercolor landscapes. Miss Berry later taught art at St Mary’s-in-the-Mountains from 1939 to 1944 and for two years as an assistant to A. Lassell Ripley.

During her painting career, Ruth Berry worked in oils, watercolor, and pastel with equal facility. Her work shows artistry and imagination. Many of her portraits are hanging in public buildings including Gov. John C. Winent in the State House, Concord, NH; Bishop John T. Dallas at St. George’s Church, Durham, NH; Mr. Mantyle at the Dallin School, Arlington, MA. Her paintings are also in numerous private collections throughout New England.

During her life Ruth Berry had many one-woman shows including at the Castano Gallery, Magnolia Art Gallery, the State Library Gallery (Concord, NH), Nashua, NH, Hanover, NH, and numerous other locations. She exhibited at the Boston Art Club; Wawasee Art Gallery in Syracuse, IN; North Shore Art Association; Art Exhibition of Contemporary New England Artists Jordan-Marsh Co.; the Currier Art Museum, Manchester NH; and in numerous other exhibits throughout New England and the east coast.

In the 1950’s she moved back to Lexington to help care for her aging parents. At this point she met Elizabeth Pierce; they became close friends (sharing the bond that both were caring for parents). They formed Pierce-Berry Creations a staple exhibitor of the “Under the Spire” Christmas Craft Fair at the Unitarian Church.

Battle at the Jason Russell House

In early 1974, Ruth Berry won a Commission competition held by The Arlington Historical Society. It was to paint a large painting depicting the Battle at the Jason Russell House. This painting was to be a highlight of the Society’s bicentennial celebration. She was chosen for her skill, experience, and her “New Englander’s” appreciation and understanding of the 19th of April 1775. She later said it was one of her most challenging and perhaps difficult paintings of her career. At the time, Ruth was suffering from a severe asthma episode, this project took her mind off her ailment … some of her closest friends believe it saved her life.

Ruth spent a great deal of time on researching the time period. She discovered that Spring had come early in 1775, therefore in the painting the apple blossoms are out and the early buds are on the trees. She also researched the military uniforms of the period and carefully sketched British colonial soldiers when given the opportunity. Another technique she used in designing the painting layout was to use lead soldiers. For perspective, she would arrange a small army in front of her.

The Fight at the Jason Russell House

The Fight at the Jason Russell House.
Ruth L. Berry’s Bicentennial painting of that historic event depicts Jason Russell courageously confronting the British at his barricaded gate while Redcoats and Minutemen engage in deadly combat.

A notable quality of Ruth’s paintings are her skies. She always enjoyed the endless variety and the majesty of the New England sky. For this painting, inspiration came one day as she was driving by the Jason Russell House. She had pulled over to view the house and make notes. She at once noticed the sky and how the cloud formation seemed to focus over the Jason Russell House. Later that day she excitedly told a friend that she had had a breakthrough in the painting.

This painting required many approvals (as is common with large commissions. For these meetings she would complete “studies” of the painting. Two of these studies still exist; the first is a pastel sketch, the second is a small oil painting. The painting was finished prior to April 19, 1975. The ceremony for the unveiling of the Battle at the Jason Russell House was held at the Jason Russell House. Upon delivery she received the balance of her total commission of $1,200.

The Final Chapter

In 1976, Ruth Berry left Boston to paint the rugged beauty of coastal Maine. There she continued to paint throughout a long battle with cancer; returning to her favorite medium pastel and her favorite subject landscapes. She died in 1980 near her beloved Trenton, Maine. Her paintings are testament to her training and to her inspired artistry.

Epilogue

In the two decades since her death, the art of Ruth Berry remained dormant. Her friend Betty Pierce had always wished to undertake a retrospective exhibit of her works. Unfortunately, time and declining health prevented her from completing this wish. Finally in 2000 her dream was realized. Ruth L. Berry had a retrospective show of her work at the Bakker Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. Today, you have given me the opportunity to further discuss and disseminate an appreciation of her talented contributions.

Written by David Baldwin, Past President of the Arlington Historical Society, and presented with illustrations at the Volunteers Tea held on Sunday, March 10, 2002.

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