Seattle artist spends week-long residency at HudsonAlpha

Artist documentary to be shown Jan. 18 at 1 p.m.

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,” is 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.

“I didn’t know anything about Huntsville,” Ruffner said. “When I was researching about NASA and HudsonAlpha and the history of Huntsville, I was already doing a lot of work with genes, and decided to show that, because that is what the population is interested in.”

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.

Ruffner has always had a passion for science. In high school, she was torn between becoming a biologist or an artist. She ultimately chose the artist path, and in doing so, she 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.

“When I came out here to install the show, they brought me to HudsonAlpha, and I got an idea!” Ruffner said.

Ruffner spent the last 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.”

Although she does not know what her HudsonAlpha inspired project will be, the Seattle artist has already made plans for a second visit. After interviewing HudsonAlpha scientists, Ruffner plans to create sketches and paintings to capture the Institute’s various projects and experiments. Ruffner said the idea of a sculpture that incorporates plants and animals comes to mind, but the possibilities are endless because of all the “cool stuff” going on at HudsonAlpha.

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 “you’ll probably never walk or talk again,” Ruffner persevered and turned a tragic accident into artistic inspiration.

“They didn’t know squat!” Ruffner said. “I’m still here, and still creating. You create your own reality by what you believe. If you believe it’s real, it’s real.”

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.

The Huntsville Museum of Art will host a free screening of the documentary on the last day of the “Aesthetic Engineering” exhibit, Jan. 18 at 1 p.m.