CONERLY, RUTH (1908–1994). Ruth Conerly, sculptor and commercial artist, was born on October 27, 1908, in Marshall, Texas. She was the daughter of Preston and Elizabeth (Davis) Conerly. Raised in Clarksville, she overcame polio, her father's tragic death, and ensuing poverty to become one of America's most extraordinary commercial artists. Her father told her "My little girl's going to be a great artist some day," but on his death, her mother told her she must be earning her living by age fourteen! A celebrated child prodigy of sculpture by age fourteen, Ruth earned a scholarship to the prestigious Sullin's College in Virginia. Her first public exhibit as a sculptor took place in Marshall in 1926. Her work titled The Passing Herd was purchased by the Marshall Public Library. By age nineteen, she worked as art director of Titche Goettinger's, a large department store in Dallas. During this time she met and married Ted Smith. The newly-weds hitchhiked to New York, arriving in the dead of winter with $100 in their pockets. Following a year of bitter struggle, Ruth became a top-flight fashion illustrator for major stores and agencies and covered haute couture in Paris. Ted wrote and Ruth illustrated four best selling art books, How to Draw Fashion Figures that Sell (1938).
With America's entrance into World War II, Conerly did the illustrations for Marshall Field's U.S war bonds campaign that sold the largest sum in war bonds during WWII.
Returning to Texas, Conerly went on to document the post-war era of expanding department stores, (Joskes of Texas, Jordon Marsh's, Sac's, etc), the advent of the space age, and fashion greats like Christian Dior. Her accounts included a roster of companies from Imperial Sugar Company, Allied Department Stores, Lone Star Beer to Humble Oil, Exxon. Nicknamed "Mrs. Christmas," Conerly's jolly Santas and nativity scenes were distributed to five thousand newspapers around the world by Metro Publishing Agency of New York (now Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.). Her portraits numbered well over a hundred.
Conerly's Death of Colonel William B. Travis on permanent display in the Alamo, today an icon of Texas bravery, is exemplary of the action realm in which Conerly excelled. President-elect Dwight Eisenhower, stood at attention before it and John Wayne enlarged it to giant size for the New York premier of his movie The Alamo (1960).
Over the years, Conerly gave conferences at the Phoenix Art Institute of New York, the Chicago School of Art, San Antonio's Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum and that city's Witte Museum. References to Conerly's life and work have been published in various compendiums and magazines.
Conerly had a daughter with her first husband, Theodore Smith. She later married Arvid Zachrisson, a store designer for Allied Department Stores. At the end of her life she was semi-retired in Costa Rica. She died from a stroke on May 27, 1994.
Frances Battaile Fisk, A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors (Abilene, Texas, 1928; facsimile rpt. Austin: Morrison, 1986). Paula L. Grauer and Michael R. Grauer, Dictionary of Texas Artists, 1800–1945 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. S. E. Wolf, M.D., A Girl From Texas: The Life, Loves and Battles of Ruth Conerly, America's Extraordinary Artist (Antigua Odisea, 2006).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Sharon Smith Wolf, "CONERLY, RUTH," accessed February 17, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcoeb.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on October 8, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.