World War I -- Life Histories/Section 001/Ruth Faison Shaw

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Ruth Faison Shaw
Portrait of Ruth Faison Shaw displayed in the Chapel Hill Museum.
Years active1887-1969
Known forArt Therapy and Finger Painting

This page is associated with ENGL 105i-Humanities at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Overview[edit]

Ruth Faison Shaw was an artist born and raised in North Carolina.[1] She served in World War I as a volunteer for the YWCA in France by aiding shell-shocked soldiers.[2] She continued on her passion for art by teaching students in Rome, Paris, and New York. She is credited for inventing finger painting, a style of art prominent in her career.[3] She retired and moved back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina until she died in 1969.

Biography[edit]

Ruth Faison Shaw was born near Wilmington, N.C. in 1887.[4] She was one of five children including her brothers Harry, Carl, Virginia, and William (Bill).[5] Throughout childhood, Ruth’s name appeared in the social column of newspapers for her involvement with the community. She was applauded for helping at school and teaching art to the young children in town.[6] In 1918, Shaw was eager to involve herself in some way with the war effort for World War I. Bill and Harry were both called for active duty on January 20th, 1918, leaving Ruth with the eagerness to get involved.[7] She was offered through the Young Men’s Christian Association a volunteer position in France to help with the psychologically affected soldiers.[8] Shaw would entertain “the troops by playing the piano, providing coffee and donuts, and leading them in song."[9] To continue her passion with art, she documented her experience by taking snapshots and drawing sketches of the landscape.[10] Due to William (Billy)’s sudden death overseas in December, Shaw reported back home for a brief time to grieve the loss of her brother.[11] Shaw was inclined to return to Europe because of her love for adventure and art. In 1920, she began to teach art to British and American children in Rome and then left for the University of Paris where she continued teaching in 1932.[12] She discovered finger painting after a boy in her class cut his finger and started smearing the blood.[13] After that she considered finger painting a form of expression and went on to patent her own finger-paints, “Shaw’s Finger Paints”.[14] She returned to the United States shortly after to open her own studio, Shaw Finger Paint Studio, in New York. During the course of her career, Shaw wrote multiple books, including "Finger Painting and How I Do It." In 1959, Shaw retired in Chapel Hill and became a psychiatric therapist for the Department of Psychiatry at North Carolina Memorial Hospital.[15] Shaw died on December 3rd, 1969.[16]

War Time Suffering in North Carolina[edit]

During the First World War, there was an outbreak in patriotism for North Carolinians. They contributed to the war effort by buying Liberty Loans, planting gardens, conserving food, and volunteering with various organizations.[17] Organizations that helped with the war effort included the YMCA, the YWCA, the Liberty Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington, the American Red Cross, Boy Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls.[18] Many North Carolinians attended rallies and events to promote patriotism within the community. Ruth Shaw was a strong supporter of the war. Her family was very much involved in the community and the War, making headlines on the newspapers. Her mother, Alberta Faison Shaw, sent out letters to those who had lost loved ones, and was involved in a community that empowered women to get involved.[19] Her father, Reverend William Mitchell Shaw, brought hope to the Wilmington Presbyterian Church community during his time as minister.[20] Ruth Shaw also decided to get involved in the war and held strong opinions of it. On her letter to her cousin she writes, “look here if you don’t send me a piece of a German coat you tore off a Hun and a handful of hair you pulled out or something, I may be as terribly fierce with you, when I get there or you get back."[21]

Women and Service in the War[edit]

Ruth’s direct involvement with the War started in 1918 when she received a telegram to volunteer for the YWCA-Young Women's Christian Association- in affiliation with the YMCA. The YWCA was formed in 1858 in New York City by a group of women seeking to improve the volunteering opportunities for women. Its mission statement today is “to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”[22] During the War, it campaigned to help women affected by the war overseas. It also joined forces with the YMCA to help soldiers affected by the war.[23] Their combined goal overseas: “A bit of home within the camps."[24] The YWCA first gained recognition during the Great War, and went by its nickname The Blue Triangle. The Blue Triangle was very much involved in the First World War. “The Blue Triangle program includes all women affected by the war: girls in munition centers here in America, girls in French powder works, wives and mothers and sweethearts of our soldiers in camp…”[25] It sought to alleviate the pain many women were going through due to the War. All women were accepted by the organization and were encouraged to help in the war effort. Ruth Shaw participated with the YMCA to help soldiers overseas with basic tasks.[26] Her obligations as volunteer included serving food and planning activities involving music and art. Many of the soldiers under her care were soldiers suffering of shell shock disorder. She exposed them to art in hopes of helping their minds be free from all the surrounding negativity of war.[27]

Ruth Shaw showing off her finger paintings at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Soldiers and Shell Shock Disorder[edit]

Shell Shock disorder was among many of the common outcomes of war. It was the traumatic response many soldiers had to the War that triggered panic, memory loss, and/or depression. Today shell shock is commonly referred to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.[28] Men that suffered were strongly encouraged to return home. However, many men were ridiculed and accused of losing their masculinity. “By the end of World War One, the [British] army had dealt with 80,000 cases of 'shell shock'."[29] Eventually volunteers, such as Shaw, were sent overseas to aid the soldiers suffering of shell shock. Many of them encouraged soldiers to participate in activities that would occupy their mind, such as singing.[30]

Contributions to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill[edit]

Ruth Shaw donated her collection of Finger Paintings to the University of North Carolina and many are displayed in the Chapel Hill Museum.[31] The exhibit’s purpose is to show the importance of art as a form of communication. Shaw believed that finger painting was a form of self-expression.[32] Shaw had a major impact on art therapy with her contribution of finger painting.


References[edit]

  1. “Ruth Faison Shaw” The Chapel Hill Museum. http://www.chapelhillmuseum.org/About/Archives/PastExhibits/RuthFaisonShaw/
  2. National War Work Council of the YMCA. Telegram to Ruth Faison Shaw. 21 October 1918. Box 1, Folder 5. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  3. “Ruth Faison Shaw” The Chapel Hill Museum. http://www.chapelhillmuseum.org/About/Archives/PastExhibits/RuthFaisonShaw/
  4. Moore, Claude. “Ruth Faison Shaw” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. NCPedia. 1994. http://ncpedia.org/biography/shaw-ruth-faison
  5. Marable, Darwin. “Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of Finger Painting” (October 2006) The World & I. High Beam Research. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-186998700.html
  6. Marable, Darwin. “Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of Finger Painting” (October 2006) The World & I. High Beam Research. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-186998700.html
  7. Headquarters, Sixth Naval District. Telegram to William H. Shaw. 20 January 1918. Box 1, Folder 4. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  8. National War Work Council of the YMCA. Telegram to Ruth Faison Shaw. 21 October 1918. Box 1, Folder 5. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  9. Marable, Darwin. “Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of Finger Painting” (October 2006) The World & I. High Beam Research. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-186998700.html
  10. Marable, Darwin. “Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of Finger Painting” (October 2006) The World & I. High Beam Research. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-186998700.html
  11. U.S. Naval Hospital. Telegram to Alberta Faison Shaw. 19 December 1918. Box 1, Folder 5. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  12. Moore, Claude. “Ruth Faison Shaw” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. NCPedia. 1994. http://ncpedia.org/biography/shaw-ruth-faison
  13. “Ruth Faison Shaw” The Chapel Hill Museum. http://www.chapelhillmuseum.org/About/Archives/PastExhibits/RuthFaisonShaw/
  14. “Ruth Faison Shaw” The Chapel Hill Museum. http://www.chapelhillmuseum.org/About/Archives/PastExhibits/RuthFaisonShaw/
  15. “Ruth Faison Shaw” The Chapel Hill Museum. http://www.chapelhillmuseum.org/About/Archives/PastExhibits/RuthFaisonShaw/
  16. Moore, Claude. “Ruth Faison Shaw” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. NCPedia. 1994. http://ncpedia.org/biography/shaw-ruth-faison
  17. Lemmon, S. & Midgette, N. North Carolina and The Two World Wars. North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2013. Print.
  18. Lemmon, S. & Midgette, N. North Carolina and The Two World Wars. North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2013. Print.
  19. Alberta Faison Shaw. Letter to R.A. Taylor. 21 November 1918. Box 1, Folder 5. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  20. “Obituary of Alberta Faison Shaw” 1930 Greensboro Daily News, Greensboro, NC, Thursday, 2 Oct 1930 http://duplin.lostsoulsgenealogy.com/obits/albertashaw.htm
  21. Ruth Faison Shaw. Letter to George. 15 September 1918. Box 1, Folder 5. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  22. “Supporting Military Women” Who We Are: History. YWCA. http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.7634921/k.6F43/Supporting_Military_Women.htm
  23. “Supporting Military Women” Who We Are: History. YWCA. http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.7634921/k.6F43/Supporting_Military_Women.htm
  24. “The Blue Triangle and the War.” War Work Bulletin. North Carolina Digital Collections. 1918. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll10/id/1873
  25. “The Blue Triangle and the War.” War Work Bulletin. North Carolina Digital Collections. 1918. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll10/id/1873
  26. National War Work Council of the YMCA. Telegram to Ruth Faison Shaw. 21 October 1918. Box 1, Folder 5. Ruth Faison Shaw Papers #3835, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 11 February 2015.
  27. Marable, Darwin. “Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of Finger Painting” (October 2006) The World & I. High Beam Research. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-186998700.html
  28. Bourke, Joan. “Shell Shock During World War One” World War One History. BBC. 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/shellshock_01.shtml
  29. Bourke, Joan. “Shell Shock During World War One” World War One History. BBC. 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/shellshock_01.shtml
  30. Bourke, Joan. “Shell Shock During World War One” World War One History. BBC. 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/shellshock_01.shtml
  31. Moore, Claude. “Ruth Faison Shaw” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. NCPedia. 1994. http://ncpedia.org/biography/shaw-ruth-faison
  32. “Ruth Faison Shaw” The Chapel Hill Museum. http://www.chapelhillmuseum.org/About/Archives/PastExhibits/RuthFaisonShaw/