University students have a particularly unique opportunity, and it’s not just about the rotunda, the stunning architecture, or the sunshine on the lawn. It has to do with the Fralin Museum of Art, a fully-fledged art museum located right next to Grounds. The Fralin is located across from the Madison Bowl and welcomes guests with eye-catching outdoor artwork and free admission. The Fralin encourages visitors to celebrate and study its diverse and ever-changing exhibits in addition to its vast collection of 14,000 permanent art objects.
After reading through some of what the museum has to offer, it may come as a shock that it was briefly closed after its initial establishment in 1935 due to a need for additional classroom space. However, art lovers pushed for the reopening and finally succeeded in 1974. Chief among these passionate people was Ruth Cunningham Cross, a long-time Fralin employee and volunteer.
“She was really part of the fabric of the museum and probably our biggest advocate in many ways. It’s hard to think about the museum and not think about Ruth,” said Matthew McLendon, director of the J. Sandford Miller family.
Ruth’s amazing contributions to the success of the Fralin didn’t end with its long-awaited reopening. She then worked for the museum for over 20 years and as a volunteer for 20 years thereafter. Ruth was on the advisory and volunteer boards, both of which work to support museum staff. As part of her work on the Boards of Directors, Ruth welcomed new volunteer members, cared for Fralin’s extensive collection, and did community outreach through K-12 programs. year.
“Every time a new person joined the Fralin team, they wanted to be the first person in the community to meet that new person, so they knew they had an advocate and an ally. That kind of spirit and generosity is really what I remember Ruth from,” McLendon said, recalling Ruth’s enthusiasm for volunteerism.
In 2003, the Fralin Museum also recognized Ruth and her husband, Robert “Bob” Dougherty Cross, as generous benefactors. The Fralin even created the “Ruth and Robert Cross Volunteer Service Award for Outstanding Service” to honor its incredible volunteers. Along with their involvement in college-related arts, Ruth and Bob lived in Pavilion VI on the Lawn in 1972. They often hosted breakfasts for students also living on the Lawn.
“Everything she’s done and everything she’s ever talked about came back and centered on the students of U.Va.,” McLendon said.
After Ruth passed away in 2021, her family donated $1 million to The Fralin on behalf of The Ruth C. Cross Endowment for Acquisitions and Collections Care. The endowment honors two things that Ruth was incredibly passionate about during her time at Fralin: the acquisitions and maintenance of the work of each collection. “Ruth knew how important it was to continually evolve the museum’s collection,” McLendon said.
This thoughtful donation will ensure that the art and institution in which Ruth was instrumental will be supported for years to come. While chatting with Marketing Director Rhonda Deck and Matthew McLendon, Ruth was also remembered for her incredible style and kindness.
Summing it up, McLendon said, “She really is the best in U.Va.”