Columbus, Ohio USA
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Ruth Gless Gets Better at Art
Architectural fellowship marks another achievement
By Margaret Marten
March/April 2016 Issue

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Ruth Gless Photo © Larry Hamill, 2016

After moving to Columbus from Chicago in 1995 and settling into the Short North two years later, Ruth Gless continued to develop an already distinguished career as an architect. Her award-winning firm, Lincoln Street Studio, (co-founded with her husband, the late Frank Elmer) designed dozens of homes in Italian Village including 37 buildings for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority’s New Village Homes at Summit Street and E. Second Avenue. This year, the Jury of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) named Gless a fellow of the AIA, its most prestigious honor.

Among the nearly 88,000 AIA members nationwide, less than four percent have been granted a fellowship. The election to fellow status (FAIA) recognizes architects who have made significant contributions to achitecture and society on a national level and achieved a standard of excellence. The Jury of Fellows elevated 149 members to its College of Fellows this year. Gless was the only member in Central Ohio among three statewide to receive this designation. She will be honored in May at the annual AIA convention in Philadelphia.

The esteem of becoming a fellow is, of course, gratifying, but the application process is enough to bring you to your knees, according to Gless. “There are rules,” she said. “There are very strict rules about it.” Those rules involve a lot of self-examination, letters of recommendation and work to produce what became, for her, a 41-page document to pass onto the jury.

“You do this incredible sort of resume that has your whole life in it with pictures,” but the whole point of it, she explained, is to help other people. “One of the responsibilities of leadership is to mentor people to achieve themselves positions of being able to make contributions to the community and to the profession and to achieve a position of leadership,” she said, “so it gives you the stature to help other people.”

Gless is recognized in her profession as an advocate of public outreach and education. She and other local AIA members are currently forming a diversity and inclusion task force. Their objective is to enhance equity for women and minorities in the profession. “I am one of two women of fellows in the Columbus AIA, and I consider my special mission to assist women,” she said.

In a gesture toward realizing that goal, the task force has invited Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, the director of the School of Architecture at Clemson University and a former national president of the AIA, to speak about equity at their annual chapter meeting this coming October.

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The recent construction of six tall gray slender single-family houses at the corner of Summit Street and E. Second Avenue in Italian Village is evidence of Gless’s more current architectural design work. She admits, however, that she has pared down her practice and no longer has a staff. In fact, she spends most of her time painting. “It’s mostly residential and planning and design consulting now,” she said. “I am an architect who paints. I’m really happy with painting. So there it is.”

By necessity, architects are artists; a project emerges from a drawing. Even before graduate school, Gless was throwing pots and working in oils. But it wasn’t until decades later that she returned to painting after establishing her career in architecture. The death of her husband three years ago gave her that incentive. She thought about throwing pots again but found that working at an easel kept her closer to home. Since then, her work has shown in group exhibits at the Riffe Gallery, the Cultural Arts Center, and the Sharon Weiss Gallery where in April, Gless and Rachel Stern will have a two-women show, R+R - Interludes.

“Rachel’s a friend of mine, and we like to paint together, and so we thought it would be interesting to do a show together,” said Gless.

No particular theme is involved. Her own work reflects an interest in cityscapes, interiors, old industrial buildings, grain elevators, and cemeteries. “They have to be distinguished cemeteries,” she said. “There is one that I’ve painted in North Carolina that was founded in 1757. I’ve painted it several times. It’s really, really nice, part of a historic village.”

For further artistic inspiration, Gless drives to Ohio towns like Granville and Mechanicsburg to paint grain elevators. Bellville and Fredericktown have a mill. Downtown Granville delights her because it reflects community life so beautifully. “It has a very nice center of town with sidewalks, benches and tables and chairs where people can sit and have sandwiches, ice cream or something. And people walk,” said Gless. “People are there all the time, so it makes the town.”

Gless is currently taking classes taught by Fred Fochtman at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington and is looking forward to a trip to Tuscany this summer to do a workshop. Education and excellence have always been an integral part of her experience. The fellowship honors one part of her self, and this is another. “That’s what I’m still doing,” she says. “I’m trying to become a better painter.”

R+R - Interludes, an exhibit of recent paintings by Ruth Gless and Rachel Stern will remain on view April 1 - 30, 2016, at the Sharon Weiss Gallery, 20 E. Lincoln St. An Artists Reception is scheduled Friday, April 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. The artists will also be present during Gallery Hop on Saturday, April 2 from 7 to 9 p.m. Visit www.sharonweiss.com or call 614-291-5683 for more information.

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