Book City: Ginny Ruffner's reading for expansive thinking

The celebrated glass artist on which books throw wide the doors of her mind -- and which ones are just glorified infomercials.
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Glass artist Ginny Ruffner

The celebrated glass artist on which books throw wide the doors of her mind -- and which ones are just glorified infomercials.

Ginny Ruffner is a celebrated glass artist who lives in a working compound in old Ballard. Her lampworking technique is organic, distinctive, highly colorful. Ruffner is known for inspiring a character in then-boyfriend Tom Robbin’s “Skinny Legs and All” and for collaborating with singer Graham Nash on a sculpture for the EMP. Her recovery from a brain injury inflicted decades ago in a near-fatal car accident, as well as her bountiful creativity, are chronicled in the award-winning documentary “A Not So Still Life.” Ruffner’s work is shown around the country, collected by museums and corporations and graces public sites, including the corner of 7th Ave. and Union Street in downtown Seattle.

Valerie Easton: What books are lying open on your nightstand right now?

Ginny Ruffner: “Genetics for Dummies” because I like to randomly open it and learn something new, no matter how insignificant, every day. I love reading and thinking about how things work and genetics tops my fascination list. “Quiet” by Susan Cain, because I’m curious about it. “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott because a writer friend gave it to me to ease my struggle with a catalogue essay I’m writing for my “Aesthetic Engineering” exhibition. And “Survival of the Beautiful” by David Rothenberg, because its premise aligns with one of the premises of my entire “Aesthetic Engineering” series – that beauty is so valued that it is it’s own protection.

None of these books are actually on my nightstand. I think reading to make you sleepy is an affront to the author. I keep my “to be read” pile in my kitchen office where I do my best thinking.

Do you read mostly fiction or non-fiction?

Mostly non-fiction, usually scientifically oriented explanatory books. “Chaos; Making a New Science,” by James Gleick, “The Three Pound Universe,” on current brain theory by Judith Hooper, “A Stubbornly Persistent Illusion; The Essential Scientific Works of Albert Einstein,” and physiology textbooks, among others.

I want to provoke my brain, not pacify it. I bet you’ve guessed that I don’t go to movies very often.

Do you ever read any novels?

All of Tom Robbins, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other South American authors that write magic realism.

Does your art influence your reading, or your reading influence your art?

Definitely the latter. Reading has been a main source of inspiration for years.

You’ve written two books on creativity… why pop-ups?

“Creativity, the Flowering Tornado” was a pop up book about the overwhelming power of creativity. I felt that adding a 3D element would strengthen the words. The other pop up I wrote, “The Imagination Cycle,” is about the unending, unbounded nature of the imagination. Therefore, the book has no end. When you get to the back cover, you turn it over and it just keeps going.

Do you have favorite books on art or artists that have inspired you or that you turn to often?

“The Encyclopedia of Animals” and “The Grammar of Ornament” by architect Owen Jones. Both books illustrate variety within parameters: the multitude of creatures within the “four legs and a tail” template; variety produced by humans, like all the variations on Greek columns.

What were your most cherished childhood books?

I was devastated when they made “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis, and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” by Mary Norton into movies. I considered them my secret books. My magic books.

Have you read a well-reviewed or popular book lately that you felt didn’t live up to the hype?

“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg turned out to be a glorified infomercial.

Any book you’ve read that really caught your imagination, inspired you, or changed how you look at the world?

“The Botany of Desire,” by Michael Pollan really stirred up my imagination, particularly the examples of plant and animal gene sharing. It inspired my “Aesthetic Engineering” series by making me wonder about other combinations. I began making sculptures (usually bronze and glass) about genetic combinations I’d like to see…like “The Gene for the Sheen on Folds of Satin.”

That’s one of the truly great things about being an artist – it’s a license to make things up. Who’s gonna argue with you?? It’s art. The scientists are jealous.

What book do you plan to read next?

Right now I’m obsessed with playground design, which makes me think about the concept of play. What it means, why we do it, and how it is influenced by the space where we do it. I’d love to find a book on play theory. What to read next? I’m open.

What Val's Reading This Week: "The Signature of All Things" by Elizabeth (Eat, Pray Love) Gilbert is a satisfyingly fat historical novel about botanical exploration, Darwin's theory of evolution and the plight of scientifically-minded women in the 19th century. Its unforgettable characters travel the world, but most of the action takes place in the unlikely trio of Philadelphia, Tahiti and Holland. There's a Tahitian orphan named "Tomorrow Morning" and the big, awkward heroine Alma, with a passion for studying mosses. Gilbert, who I underestimated, has written an engrossing story as well as a ride through history, human nature and the endless mysteries of the plant kingdom.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.