Bette Ridgeway was born in Tupper Lake, a small village in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Inspired by the pristine and expansive beauty of this 6 million square mile natural habitat, she began drawing and painting as a young child. At 13 she enrolled in landscape painting and figure drawing classes at the Albany Institute of History and Art where she fell in love with the Hudson River School and studied the European impressionists. One of her prescient instructors introduced her to the work of Pablo Picasso, which thoroughly captivated her young artist’s imagination.
Ridgeway went on to study the visual arts with an emphasis on graphic design. After enrolling in design glasses at the Russell Sage College in Troy, NY, she submitted her portfolio to the Reuben H. Donnelley Advertising. Thinking that she had a design degree, they hired her as a professional designer alongside seasoned professionals. She discovered that the Donnelley corporation could offer, with its on-the-job training, far more than any college. “This was my art “boot camp”, says the artist.
Ridgeway continued to study painting privately with accomplished professionals. In studio settings, she observed how a professional artist lives and works. During the late 1960s she lived and worked in Africa, South America and Australia. While abroad she studied and taught painting and continued to build her vibrant visual vocabulary. After her return to the U.S. she was hired as visual arts coordinator for the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission, where she administered a SETA program which provided young artists with studio space. She was instrumental in the building and funding of the Montpelier Art Center in Laurel, Maryland. In this capacity, she developed an arts festival for disabled young people – drawing the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Shriver quickly introduced the artist to her sister, Jean Kennedy Smith who was in the early stages of developing Very Special Arts at the national level. Ridgeway was hired to coordinate the national festival program. Within a year she was asked to become its Executive Director and CEO.
While working as the CEO of Very Special Arts (an educational affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) Ridgeway was introduced to Paul Jenkins who donated a stunning poster for the first National Very Special Arts Festival at the Kennedy Center in 1979. He became a good friend and mentor, encouraging the artist to work large and eliminate subject matter. He explained that she was a natural colorist. “This was life changing,” says Ridgeway. She shared her work with Jenkins for nine years before he finally declared, “You are ready for a show!”
In 1988 Ridgeway’s solo at FOTA Gallery in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, drew rave reviews and a collector base. The artist knew that she had found her medium, thin, transparent acrylic on large canvas. Moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1996 was another breakthrough, validating her exceptional work in a vibrant art mecca.
Twenty years in Santa Fe have drawn out the best of Ridgeway’s talents. She has explored working with glass, metal and in 2016 launched her metal sculpture, “Trilogy”. She has shown her work in a dozen galleries, mounted many solo exhibitions and acquired a strong following.
"The best artists learn by themselves. Painting is a solitary experience, and to achieve excellence in painting requires time and patience. We accumulate valuable life experiences and friendships which touch our souls. In my case, I was fortunate to always find someone from whom to learn and grow, as an artist and person. Master artists contributed enormously to my work. I chose the greats to be my teachers – Turner, Matisse, Monet and Cassatt. I love the Renaissance masters for depth of color and the French impressionists for their bold departure from traditional realism. Twentieth Century masters such as Hopper, and the Wyeths affected me deeply as well as contemporary masters such as Diebenkorn, Mitchell, Frankenthaler and Gerhard Richter helped me dive deeply into my signature style. Paul Jenkins, the master, has and will continue to be a beacon of achievement that Ridgeway strives for on a daily basis”.