Columbus, Ohio USA
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Local architect appointed chair of non-profit
Ruth Gless returns to love of painting
By Margaret Marten
March/April 2014 Issue

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See also article March/April 2016

Courtesy of Ruth Gless

Short North resident Ruth Gless, managing principal of Lincoln Street Studio, is the new chair for the Center for Architecture and Design, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing public interest in local design and architecture. In addition, the American Institute of Architects Columbus chapter appointed Gless as their Ohio alternate director for 2014. Both organizations are housed in the old Lazarus building downtown at 50 West Town St.

The Columbus Architecture Foundation founded by AIA Columbus became the Center for Architecture and Design in 2010 in order to foster more robust public outreach programs and to bring people together from all the design professions focused mainly on the built environment.

“A bunch of us decided, let’s make a center for architecture so that we can outreach to the community and be a visible presence,” said Gless. The center’s programs include camp architecture for children, an architectural bike tour called “design:ROLLS,” and a festival of design-centered events that grew into a month-long series from a one-week event, “Design Week[s].” A new program Design Talks will provide periodic gatherings for those who want to focus on a particular issue of design.

Gless and her husband, the late Frank Elmer, relocated from Clintonville to the Short North in 1996. Frank Elmer Associates was then renamed Lincoln Street Studio after the move into their new home, a renovated warehouse at 45 E. Lincoln St. It became their office and residence, which is where Gless continues to operate the firm with two other architects, Joseph Moss and Jesse Wilmoth. Moss and Wilmoth are both on the AIA Columbus board. “We have the distinction of being 100 percent on the AIA board this year,” said Gless.

Lincoln Street Studio has made major contributions to the Short North landscape. Connie Klema, a neighborhood attorney and developer, began a project of three homes to be built on a wedge of property facing I-670 in Italian Village with the help of Lincoln Street Studio. The structures, designed by the firm, are three-level homes with rooftop sun decks. The first one is finished and occupied.

“We’ve done dozens of buildings,” said Gless. “Some years ago we finished the redevelopment of the site that used to be Taylor Terrace. We did that for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority. That’s 100 units, 30 some buildings, 16 different designs. It fits in the neighborhood; it’s not repetititive. It’s very unusual for a public housing project in that it’s not repetitive.” It takes a lot of talented people to make a building, she points out, “a lot of talented people, rigorous people, and with perseverance.”

Gless began her career as a high school teacher – while helping her first husband get his Ph.D at Princeton – before later studying art and architecture. But it was while growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, that she first demonstrated an interest in buildings. “I built a town. I built houses. I remember doing stores. I even did a filling station. I did it on the floor,” said Gless. She constructed her town on a large piece of cardboard stored under her bed. “I’d pull it out and put buildings on it.”

As a ten-year-old girl over half a century ago, no one thought to encourage Gless to become an architect, even though she was academically strong and later began taking college prep courses in high school. However, that’s where she eventually ended up after studying English at the University of Nebraska and teaching – as an architect.

After her first husband launched his academic career, Gless began working in clay, and painting on canvas while contemplating law school before deciding to become an architect at 30. Architects draw, she points out. “You have to draw facades and site plans. Sometimes you do 3-dimensional drawings, perspectives or other kinds of 3-dimensional drawings, so I had a career of drawing.” However, it wasn’t until Frank Elmer passed away a little over a year ago that Gless picked up a brush in earnest and began to paint as a fine artist again.

Her initial plan was to return to clay. She had studied and made pots for several years before attending architecture school and has fond memories of the woman who taught her to throw pots in Virginia, Wilma Bradbeer. “She was a very talented artist,” said Gless. “She painted incredibly and made gorgeous pots.” But Gless turned to painting rather than working clay, realizing she can paint at home but not throw pots there. “I have a painting buddy,” she said. “I convinced a really good friend of mine to go with me and take this class at the Cultural Arts Center.” Gless and her friend Susan continue to meet regularly and paint together.

Gless’s portfolio was slow to grow. She needed to relearn the medium again. “If you haven’t done it for thirtysome years, you sort of forget how to mix the colors together,” she explained. “People say they’re good. It makes me happy.”

Her paintings are now on display at Sharon Weiss Gallery in the Short North. The “Volkswagen Series” includes four works. “She’s good,” said Weiss. “I told Ruth, and I’ve known her for years, that I would not put her work in the gallery if I did not think it was good, and, in fact, I just bought one.” The painting of Gless’s home resonated with Weiss not only because “it was a wonderful piece of history,” but because she felt it was very well-executed.

“Ruth is painting like fury,” said Weiss, “and my hunch is that will be her new career at some point.”

However, Gless remains an architect, putting in a full day at Lincoln Street Studio. Her life and work express her fascination with buildings, design and structure.

“I do landscapes,” she said about her paintings, “but it’s more buildingscapes, probably because I’m interested in buildings.” Her ability to share that interest, whether through her commitment to the Center for Achitecture and Design, her work with Lincoln Street Studio or her artwork gives Gless a reason to rejoice. Artists and architects can remain a visible presence through the legacy of the work they enjoy and love.

© 2014 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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