Knoxville in Knox County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)
Ruth Cobb Brice
(1899 – 1971)
Untitled Abstract, 1960
Beck Cultural Exchange Center Collection
Born in Knoxville, Ruth Cobb Brice graduated from Swift Memorial College, a historically Black college in Rogersville, and was soon teaching at schools in Rogersville, Greeneville, and LaFollette. During the summer months she studied at the Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University in Nashville.
The Knox County School District hired Brice in 1928 to teach art at Heiskell Elementary School, then a public school for Black children. She later taught at Maynard Elementary in Mechanicsville.
Brice’s interest in art blossomed more fully while studying at Knoxville College during the mid-1930’s. When she ad the opportunity, she studied with professional artists in Washington, D.C.
In the 1940’s, she began writing poetry under the pseudonym Rachel Jane McKinney. In 1949 she published a poetry booklet called The Wrong Slant. While very short, the booklet gives her a claim to be Knoxville’s first Black female author. On her business card she described herself as “poetess and lecturer”.
By 1953, she was exhibiting
Brice once lived on East Knoxville’s South Georgia Street, near the urban section know as the Bottom. A neighbor and friend, noted historian Robert Booker, recalled her as a prolific artist. She later lived on Groner Driver in the Morningside area. She retired after 47 years of teaching, and devoted her life more fully to art. In 1968, Brice became the first Black artist to join the invitation-only Knoxville Watercolor Society.
Brice’s work was shown across the country, from Omaha, Nebraska, to New York City, as well as locally at Knoxville College, which offered an exhibit of her work in 1967; the University of Tennessee; ad Dulin Gallery of Art. Near the end of her life, she painted two notable murals for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in 1970.
She died in 1971 and is buried in Crestview Cemetery in the West View community. The Beck Cultural Exchange Center organized a retrospective exhibition of 50 of her works in 1985, and still keeps several of her works in its permanent collection.
Erected by Knoxville History Project.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Arts, Letters, MusicKnoxville History Project - Downtown Art Wraps series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1960.
Location. 35° 58.754′ N, 83° 54.356′ W. Marker is in Knoxville, Tennessee, in Knox County. Marker is at the intersection of East Magnolia Avenue (U.S. 70) and North Bertrand Street, on the left when traveling west on East Magnolia Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Knoxville TN 37917, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Magnolia Avenue History (here, next to this marker); Knoxville (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Magnolia Avenue History (approx. ¼ mile away); a different marker also named Ruth Cobb Brice (approx. ¼ mile away); Beauford Delaney (approx. 0.4 miles away); a different marker also named Magnolia Avenue History (approx. 0.4 miles away); Confederate Cemetery (approx. 0.4 miles away); St. Clair Cobb (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Knoxville.
Credits. This page was last revised on July 28, 2021. It was originally submitted on July 27, 2021, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 139 times since then and 13 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on July 27, 2021, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. • J. Makali Bruton was the editor who published this page.