Alumna creating and restoring art at age 99
Update: Adele Pruitt passed away Feb. 20, according to The Willits News. A memorial is being planned for April.
Twice a week, celebrated artist and art restorer Adele Pruitt ’61 holds classes for a small group of long-time students in her Mendocino County studio. It’s something she still enjoys—at the age of 99.
“I just have to stay busy. I'm not a person that can sit around and do nothing … I like to be creative,” said Pruitt.
Though the classes have gotten smaller and she no longer takes on new students due to COVID-19, she has a regular group of retirees who meet with her in Ukiah on Wednesdays and Fridays to work on oil and acrylic paintings and get feedback.
And there’s the group lunch, the “highlight of the day,” says long-time student Polly Palecek, laughing.
Palecek started taking classes with Pruitt 12 years ago, and she hasn’t seen her slow down.
“She’s like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going,” Palecek said.
A life-long passion
Art has been part of Pruitt’s entire life.
Her mother and paternal grandmother were artists. They met while attending San Francisco Art Institute and became friends, passing on their passion to Pruitt.
“They gave us art materials, and we were artists from the day we got on the floor with our crayons,” Pruitt said.
She’s been teaching nearly as long. Pruitt earned her bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State in 1945 and started teaching at public schools in Northern California.
She earned her master’s in education from University of the Pacific in 1961 after her husband’s job at the port brought them to Stockton, where they lived for 10 years.
“I loved it (at Pacific),” she said, thinking back. Even after 60 years, the name of one of her professors instantly comes to mind.
“I took watercolor from Richard Yip. He was a very famous watercolor painter in Stockton,” Pruitt said.
“We went on location, and he did demos and we painted along with him. We went down to the waterfront, out to buildings, and we did lots of things on the campus.”
Some of her artwork could find its way back to campus soon.
About a year ago, Pruitt reached out to university curator Lisa Cooperman to offer some of her paintings.
While the pandemic has delayed the two from finalizing details, Cooperman says she eventually hopes to have some of Pruitt’s work on display to showcase her long career, which isn’t over yet.
“I think it just proves that teaching and creating, and being around people, and building a life around those shared passions keep you young,” said Cooperman.
Learning new skills
Pruitt’s paintings include everything from impressionist and still-life, to landscape and abstract using a variety of techniques.
“I have been experimenting all my life,” she said. She calls one method “watercolor in starch.”
“You smear starch all over the paper and then paint into that, and you can use objects, like combs, or strips of cardboard, or sponges, different things, to make textures in the starch, so I kind of perfected that means of painting,” said Pruitt.
She also does encaustic paintings, using warmed beeswax mixed with powdered pigments.
Pruitt opened Renaissance Gallery in Ukiah in the 1970s to display her work and have a space to paint. It was there that she decided to become a student again.
“We kept getting requests for (art restoration). I didn't know how to do it, so I signed up with a gentleman who had a gallery in Sonoma and a school for teaching restoration. I went over there and learned from him,” said Pruitt.
Palecek calls Pruitt “a skilled and rarely found restorationist.” Though a student now, she first met Pruitt when she began taking artwork to her to be cleaned.
“Especially for someone to be doing it in a small town in northern California,” adds Chris Pugh, cofounder of Deep Valley Arts Collective, a nonprofit that supports the art community in Ukiah. “I think it's pretty rare.”
Pruitt sold the gallery after 30 years so she could focus on restoration, teaching and painting, opening Pruitt’s Fine Art Restoration, which she still owns.
Her work on display
Pruitt’s work as an art restorer and artist has made her well-known in the community. After Deep Valley Arts Collective opened a gallery in July, Pugh received requests for her work to be included.
This month they made it happen with an exhibit dedicated to her work called “Teach, Restore, Paint.” It will be up at Medium Art Gallery through January. Four of her pieces have already sold.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to honor her and the community. It's great that we could put it together for her,” said Pugh.
Some of her great-grandchildren who live nearby surprised her at the exhibit’s opening.
While Pruitt hasn’t made plans for her 100th birthday in September, one thing is for sure–she’ll still be creating new artwork.
“Oh, of course,” she said. “I’d never stop painting.”