Folk art survives the centuries



Folk Art has survived over the centuries in uniquely creative forms; one of the best loved and well known is Tole painting, decorative painting on tin or wooden utensils, objects and furniture.


Most of the embellished items are considered everyday items families use and pass down through generation such as hope chests, toy and jewelry boxes, chairs, tables, coffee pots and platters. With its roots in the 18th century, Tole painting was popular in England, Germany, Scandinavian and Norwegian countries before becoming highly prized in the American Colonies.


Today local artist, Shirley Nan Ruchong, takes the art of Tole paining into a new century with impeccable form, grace and creativity.


Growing up in Los Angeles, Calif., Shirley was surrounded by the handy crafts of her Grandma on her Mother’s side. Shirley remembers how gifted her grandmother was with sewing, crocheting and even oil painting.


Shirley knew, from a young age, she wanted to be equally creative, although she didn’t particularly think of herself as artistic at the time, she just loved the creative process. In 1979, as a mother of two young children, Shirley was introduced to Tole and Decorative Art painting, a process that was guided by very precise steps and patterns.


She enjoyed the fact the designs were done on “useful” objects making them more personal and beautiful. Shirley was hooked! She traveled to take workshops and classes in the technique, learning from the best Tole painters of the time.


It wasn’t long before others were asking her to offer the classes and in 1981 that Shirley became an official teacher! Since that time Shirley has taught all over the United States and Japan.


California was Shirley’s home until the spring of 2017. Building on her skill set in accounting and business from the community college she went to work for Bank of America in San Diego just after she married.


She moved to San Francisco while her husband was in dental school and the family eventually made Eureka their home. There, in 1985, Shirley and her best friend Donna, opened an art store where they sold supplies and taught classes.


Shirley’s son moved to Arizona five-years-ago presenting an opportunity for her to spend the Christmas holidays in the magnificent Sonoran Desert. Eventually, her son and daughter suggested she move to Arizona and begin a new chapter in her creative life. Today, Shirley lives in Black Canyon City and works from her home art studio.


Regardless of the ebbs and flows of Shirley’s life, the thing that has remained a constant is her love of Tole painting. She favors flowers as a subject, in a photographic (contemporary) realism style. Four-years-ago Shirley discovered the medium of alcohol inks, attracted by the fluid application and vibrant colors.


She also enjoys the fact alcohol inks can be used on functional objects with a looser abstract visual result. Today, Shirley is represented by three galleries in California, and is anxious to reach out to local venues to build her place in the art world of Arizona.


Shirley is participating in the Hidden in the Canyon Artist Studio Tour, November 16- 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Information on the free self-guided studio tour can be found at the Hidden in the Canyon’s Facebook page, or by emailing Glenda White, hiddeninthecaynon@BCCSAT, or calling her at 720-217-7443.


Don’t miss the opportunity to meet Shirley and the other talented artists participating in November’s Studio Tour.


Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield on her email at