At 98, Ruth Gascon continues to share her passion for painting

Ruth Hebert Gascon draws inspiration from the sun as it bathes a portion of the canvas she’s holding in warm light. Using an array of acrylics within easy reach, she brings a swampy scene to life with each brush stroke. These days, she’s traded the dimly lit art studio with a standing easel in the back of her home for a chair where the sun pours in to her living room.

She primarily paints with acrylics because the sharp edges and vibrant colors of the medium are the most visible. Before that, she spent decades blending watercolors en plein air in places as far away as Italy and as near as the Port Allen levee, which sits less than a block from her home.

At 98, few things are like they once were for Ruth, but painting has never been negotiable. Her family often teases, “If you stay still too long, Ruth is going to paint you!”

Ruth’s process is simple but tried and true. She paints what she sees. “She’s painted the view from every window in this house,” her daughter and fellow painter Susan Labauve says.

The walls of her house offer a showcase of her life, painstakingly decorated with vignettes of her time spent in Europe, ferry boats floating on the Mississippi and dozens of family portraits.

“Fifty percent of my life is art, and fifty percent is my family,” Ruth explains. She’s passed down her love of the arts to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some paint or draw, others sew. But they are nearly all artists of some kind. “I know I passed it down because it was passed down to me,” Ruth says.

When any of her fourteen grandchildren, now all adults, visited her house as kids, there was sure to be an art lesson on brush technique or color mixing at the kitchen table.

Ruth began painting with her late sister Margaret Acosta around age 34. The pair took classes in Baton Rouge from Iris Curry, who Ruth recalls as the best art teacher she’s ever had. She and Margaret showed their work in the Art Guild Gallery together and traveled near and far, painting whatever they saw along the way. Ruth recalls fondly the many days they sat on top of the Port Allen levee painting ferry boats as they passed, sure to capture the State Capitol in the background. Prints of those paintings now hang proudly in her hallway.

Among her favorite paintings is the tablescape she captured of the bouquet of roses with two wine glasses left from an evening celebrating her wedding anniversary with her late husband, Raymond. “I woke up, saw everything on the table, and said, ‘That’s a painting,’” she recalls. “Since then, I’ve done 95 more anniversary paintings for other people.” Each of her anniversary paintings features a wine bottle at the center with the couple’s names, wedding dates and personal details like their children’s names or hometowns.

Over the years, she’s completed more than 300 oil and watercolor paintings and recently completed her 188th acrylic. She has given away most of her work to family, friends and even gracious hosts during her three European trips.

Earlier this year, Ruby Morrow, an 86-year-old art collector in Scotlandville, purchased one of Ruth’s paintings at a garage sale. Ruby was pleasantly surprised to find the artist’s phone number on the back of the painting and called the number. The two met for the first time in February after weeks of talking on the phone. “I told her she’s my friend now,” Ruth says with a laugh.

Through art, Ruth has made many friends and countless memories, simply painting what she sees. For her, like many dedicated artists, there is a timeless joy and connection that creativity brings to the canvas of life, love and family.

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