Ruth Lillian Ratliff Addison

1912, Omaha Nebraska – 1980, Anaheim, California
(Ruth Ratliff)

A relatively unknown but obviously talented artist, Ruth Addison was first brought to public attention in Nebraska with the description of being “untrained.” However, the reviewer using that word, not once but twice, quickly turned it into a compliment. His name was Ernest Witte, and he made the reference in his article about the 1935 Nebraska State Historical Society exhibition of Depression-Era painters sponsored by the Federal Emergency Relief Act ‒ part of the Public Works of Art program. He made a general description of the 60 exhibited works, and then focused on Moonlight Sonata by Ratliff: “The other pictures are all interesting, all have histories ‒ but I wish to call attention especially to one painted by an untrained artist. It is by Ruth Ratliff of Omaha and is called Moonlight.” In his summary, he wrote: “One of the finest of all the pictures produced was painted by an untrained artist.”

Witte also explained that Ruth was among 28 artists submitting artwork to this exhibition divided into two groups: “Those in the ‘A’ group were paid $45.00 per week. Those in the ‘B’ group received $26.50 per week. Some were trained; others untrained.” Knowing of Witte’s description, one can assume Ruth was in the B Group.

At that time, Ruth was age 23 and unmarried. Her parents were William and Lillie (Krell) Ratliff, and the family lived in Omaha where Ruth graduated from North High School. No record has been found of formal art education for her, but in the mid 1930s, when she placed work in the Nebraska State Historical Society exhibition, she was obviously committed to art as a profession because she listed herself as an “artist” in the Omaha City Directory.

Sometime between 1936 and 1940, Ruth married Iowa-born Howard Clayton Addison whose census-listed occupation was “musician” and source of income was “orchestra.” In Omaha, the couple first lived at 117 North 40th Street with his parents, Harry and Margaret Addison, and by 1941, they had their own place at 4238 Grant Street and then at 2588 Evans Street in 1946.

Five years appear to have elapsed after the 1935 reference to Ruth’s exhibition painting, Moonlight Sonata, and the next public attention to her as an artist. On November 24, 1940, the Omaha World-Herald had a one-line reference to her under the heading of “Artists in Action.” She, with the name Ruth Ratliff Addison, was one of nine demonstration artists representing various categories of art-making at Joslyn Art Museum’s ninth birthday celebration. The event coincided with National Art Week and the opening at Joslyn of the Six States Art Exhibition. So that visitors could have direct interaction during the week’s events, the featured artists were set up in booths in the halls of the Museum. Ruth’s specialty was described as “pen and ink illustrations.” She was among some well-known Nebraska artists such as Milton Wolsky, abstract oil painting; Ruth Tompsett, watercolor; Mary Skinner, woodcarving; and Lillian Horton, pottery.

Sometime in the next few years, Ruth and Howard moved to Anaheim, California, where they lived until her death at age 68 on March 24, 1980. Howard died at age 84 on November 7, 1992. From his obituary, it is learned that he continued his career as a musician, and that the couple had two daughters, Cathy and Patricia, “both of Anaheim, grandchildren and three great grandchildren.” There is no mention of Ruth, nor are there records of her in California art associations or exhibitions. One thing known is that for an artist originally described as “untrained,” she created artwork linked to trained hands and trained eyes.

Ruth Addison is not represented in the Museum of Nebraska Art collection.

Sources:, Aug. 2015

Museum of Nebraska Art files: Omaha Sunday World-Herald, newspaper: Artists in Action,” 11/24/1940

Obituary of Howard Clayton Addison,” The Orange County Register, newspaper: 11/71992, Aug. 2015

Witte, Ernest, “The Nebraska FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Act) Exhibit,” Nebraska State Historical Society, Volume 16, No. 1, January-March 1933, pp. 57-60, published on “Resource Library Magazine,” Traditional Fine Arts Online, Web, Aug. 2015

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945