In remembrance of my mentors, critics and confidants
Who shared ways to spend a dollar in art and make it worth something
I miss you both
Godfrey Olivier Gaston
Ruth S. Schaffner & Husband, Adama Diawara
In perceiving paintings and judging artists, Ruth’s success has proved her vision included an eye for work that deserved a place in the world. Throughout her life she maintained an objective, encouraging and open manner.
Ruth S. Schaffner was born in 1914 in Mannheim, Germany and educated in Berlin until the imprisionment of her father, Dr. Hans Staudinger - Secretary of State in Prussia and MP for Hamburg. Upon his arrest, Ruth fled Germany. She first went to Switzerland and then to France. While in France Ruth started studying photography. She later graduated with a degree in economics after moving to the United States in 1935.
During the World War II she was a photographer with the Free-French Information Service. She later became a film maker and photographer with her first husband Hassolt Davis, going on expeditions to French Guiana in South America and in 1948-49 to West Africa’s Ivory Coast. Together with Davis, she wrote two books about these expeditions and made two documentary films for Warner Brothers in Hollywood.
Ruth spend most of her life in the 1950’s working as a television producer in New York. It is during this period she got married to a French painter Michael Cadoret de L’Epinneguin through whom she became part of the European art community. Having interacted with renown artists like Fernanrd Leger, Marc Chagall, Juan Miro, Marcel Duchamps; with surrealists Salvador Dali and Tangui and Americans Mark Rotho and Alexander Calder. It was during this time Ruth developed a knowledge and strong love for art. As she would later tell her friends, “I suddenly realized I had an eye and that it was a good one. I learned what good work was by osmosis.”
Armed with intense intellectual and artistic feeling, Ruth together with her third husband, Joseph Schaffner (the Chicago men’s clothing chain ‘Hart Schaffner and Marx’) made several ‘art finding’ trips to seek the emerging contemporary art of Japan and Australia among many other countries.
Ruth’s first full taste of the world of contemporary art came after the death of Joseph Schaffner in 1972 when she opened a large art gallery on State Street in Santa Barbara, California. The gallery was years ahead of Los Angeles. Ruth Schaffner was the first major contemporary art dealer and gallery owner to see Santa Barbara as an important centre for arts outside Los Angeles. Later, she moved the gallery to Los Angeles where she showed the work of now famous artists, among them David Hockney and Robert Therrien. She returned to Santa Barbara in 1980, opened a small gallery in Ortega Street and showcased the work of emerging artists.
Schaffner moved to Nairobi in 1984 with her husband, businessman Adama Diawara and took over Gallery Watatu. She brought to the gallery her years of experience in the international art scene and her fierce commitment to promoting artists. The dimensions of what she accomplished during her tenure as director and owner of Gallery Watatu are numerous. Her acute sense and knowledge of how to spot hot talented and hard-working artists, how to nurture personal and original elements in their work, and how to foster their sense of professional identity left an indelible mark on the face of Watatu. While in Nairobi she motivated and promoted numerous painters who later nicknamed her Mama Art.
Ruth passed away on March 15, 1996 in Nairobi of a heart attack.Reference: Francis Ilahaka, Culture Journalist Kenya Times, March 28, 2013