Students at the University have a particularly unique opportunity, and it doesn’t just have to do with the Rotunda, gorgeous architecture or sunning on the Lawn. It has to do with The Fralin Museum of Art, a full-fledged art museum located right near Grounds. The Fralin is situated across from Madison Bowl, and it welcomes guests with eye-catching outdoor art and free admission. The Fralin encourages visitors to celebrate and study its diverse and ever-changing exhibitions in addition to its vast collection of 14,000 permanent art objects.
After reading just some of what the museum has to offer, it may come as a shock that it was briefly closed down after its original 1935 establishment due to a need for extra classroom space. However, art lovers pushed for reopening and eventually succeeded in 1974. Chief among these passionate individuals was Ruth Cunningham Cross, long-time Fralin employee and volunteer.
“She was really part of the fabric of the museum and probably our greatest advocate in many ways. It’s hard to think of the museum and not think of Ruth,” said Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family Director.
Ruth’s astounding contributions to The Fralin’s success did not end with its long-awaited reopening. She then worked for the museum for more than 20 years and as a volunteer for 20 more years after that. Ruth was a part of both the advisory and volunteer boards, both of which work to support the museum’s Staff. As a part of her work on the Boards, Ruth greeted new volunteer members, cared for The Fralin’s large collection and did community outreach through K-12 programming.
“Any time a new person joined the team at The Fralin, she wanted to be the first person from the community to meet that new person, so they knew that they had an advocate and an ally. That kind of spirit and generosity is really what I remember about Ruth,” McLendon said, recalling Ruth’s enthusiasm for volunteering.
In the year of 2003, The Fralin Museum also acknowledged Ruth and her Husband, Robert “Bob” Dougherty Cross, as generous benefactors. The Fralin has even created the “Ruth and Robert Cross Volunteer Service Award for Outstanding Service” to honor its amazing volunteers. Along with their involvement in University-related arts, Ruth and Bob lived in the Lawn’s Pavilion VI in 1972. They often hosted breakfasts for students also living on the Lawn.
“Everything that she did and everything that she always talked about came back to and centered on the students at U.Va.,” McLendon said.
After Ruth’s passing in 2021, her family donated $1 million to The Fralin in the name of The Ruth C. Cross Endowment for Acquisitions and Collections Care. The endowment honors two things Ruth was incredibly passionate about during her time at The Fralin: acquisitions and caring for the work of each collection. “Ruth knew how important it was to continuously evolve the collection of the museum,” McLendon said.
This thoughtful donation will ensure that the art and institution Ruth was instrumental to will be taken care of for years to come. While speaking further with Marketing Manager Rhonda Deck and Matthew McLendon, Ruth was also remembered for her amazing style and kind honesty.
In summation, McLendon said, “She really is the best of U.Va.”
CORRECTION: This article previously misspelled J. Sanford Miller. It has been updated to reflect the proper spelling.