Award-winning artist Ginny Ruffner finds beauty in HudsonAlpha research

Seattle artist spends week-long residency at HudsonAlpha


The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology welcomed world-renowned artist Ginny Ruffner to the Institute as its artist in residence, Jan. 12-16, 2015.

From glass sculptures to pop-up books, Ginny Ruffner is a versatile artist, blending together glass and metal into torchworked glass art. Her solo exhibition, “Aesthetic Engineering,” was on display at the Huntsville Museum of Art through Jan. 18, 2015.

The series is inspired by recent breakthroughs in genetics and bioengineering and the possibilities of future gene sharing between animal and plant kingdoms. Ruffner also incorporates biological images into her work, so it only seemed right to exhibit in Huntsville, one of the top ten STEM-related destinations in the U.S.

“When I was researching about NASA and HudsonAlpha and the history of Huntsville,” Ruffner said, “I was already doing a lot of work with genes, and decided to show that, because that is what the population is interested in.”

Her exhibit “Aesthetic Engineering” is a play on genetic engineering, the process of adding new DNA to an organism and giving it new traits that the organism does not already contain. Ruffner sees beauty in the experimental technology.

“To me, it’s the ultimate creativity,” she said. “Creativity has always meant combining things, and genetics is an astounding way to do that.”

Although based in Seattle, Ruffner was born and raised in the South. A well-known southern female artist was exactly what the Women’s Guild of the Huntsville Museum of Art was looking for to kick off its 50th anniversary celebration this year.

Passion for Science

Ruffner has always had a passion for science. In high school, she was torn between pursuing biology or art. She ultimately chose art, and in doing so eventually found a way to combine both talents into one.

“I have been interested in science my whole life,” Ruffner said, “but I had to get my artist chops down before I could go back and add the science to my work.”

For more than ten years, the artist’s sculptures have been strongly influenced by genetics. During her trip to Huntsville in October, Ruffner toured HudsonAlpha and was instantly inspired. She spent the final week of her exhibition at HudsonAlpha, getting to know the researchers to not only find inspiration for her next piece, but to learn where they find inspiration.

“I mainly wanted to interview scientists in the labs about what they find beautiful in their work,” Ruffner said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean pretty. It could be elegance in a hypothesis or a well-designed experiment, or a secondary finding that led to an ‘aha’ moment.”

Ruffner plans to create sketches and paintings to capture the different projects and experiments here, based in the insights gleaned in her time spent with HudsonAlpha scientists. She also envisions a sculpture incorporating plants and animals together, but the possibilities are endless, she said, because at HudsonAlpha, there are “a lot of smart people doing cool stuff.”

An Inspirational Person

In addition to being an inspirational artist, Ruffner is also an inspirational person. In 1991, the award-winning artist was in a near-fatal car accident. She was in a coma for five weeks. Despite hearing the words “you’ll probably never walk or talk again,” Ruffner persevered and turned a tragic accident into artistic inspiration.

“I think my accident made me more creative because I am stubborn and will not take no for an answer,” Ruffner said. “There were some things after my accident that I could not do, so figuring out another way to do things was just another form of creativity.”

Ruffner’s story was captured in the 2010 documentary, “Ginny Ruffner: A Not So Still Life.” The award-winning film explores her journey from childhood in South Carolina to her emergence as a world-renowned artist, and her determination to recover from the accident that nearly claimed her life. Watch the trailer for this inspirational film here.

“You create your own reality by what you believe. If you believe it’s real, it’s real.”  — Ginny Ruffner