Betty Sapp Ragan mastered a variety of media and techniques during her long career. A Life in Art: Betty Sapp Ragan Retrospective, 1969–2014 surveys 45 years of her artistic production. Artworks on view include paintings and prints, mixed-media objects, and photographs. The exhibition was curated by Becky Frehse, instructor, and Janet Marcavage, associate professor, both of the art and art history department at Puget Sound in collaboration with the artist’s son, Mac Ragan.
A native of Birmingham, Ala., Ragan received her bachelor’s degree in studio arts from Birmingham-Southern College in 1958. From 1968 to 1973, she studied oil painting, photography, sculpture, art history, and philosophy at Allegheny College. She also took printmaking classes at Carnegie Mellon University during this time. In the early 1980s, after a hiatus in her artistic career, she decided to pursue a graduate degree.
Ragan received her M.F.A. in photography and printmaking from Pratt Institute, New York, in 1985. After graduation she taught at Auburn University for several years, until moving to Tacoma in 1989 to begin her position at Puget Sound. Ragan was instrumental in developing the university’s programs in photography and printmaking, and keeping them current as technology changed. She retired as professor emerita in 2004. She also taught privately both before and after retirement.
Ragan exhibited her work nationally and internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions for which she received national acclaim and several awards. Her last show, Geometry Rising: Part 1, was at Gallery 110, Seattle, in April 2014. During the course of her career, her work evolved through watercolor and oil painting into collage, photography, and printmaking. Her final series brought together the artistic interests of a lifetime in large-format acrylic paintings with photographic insets.
Throughout her career Ragan joined portraits—primarily of women—with elements of the environment, both architectural and natural. In an interview she noted her continuing interest in “the relationship of human beings to the land—what we have done to it, and why we do the things we do with the land.” Mac Ragan also has noted: “In the 1970s my mother started using images of women in her art. She was intrigued and outraged by the way women were treated as second class. She found this true in daily life as well as the art world. As a member of the Guerrilla Girls group in New York in the mid-1980s she worked with other women artists to promote gender and racial equality in the fine arts.”
Ragan’s works were meticulously crafted. She would work and rework artworks until she was satisfied with the results. She also was a highly prolific artist creating work every day. Her son noted: “Making art was essential to my mother’s well-being—so much so that she, on several occasions, told me that if there ever came a time when she couldn’t have that creative outlet, she’d rather not be alive. … My mother produced numerous bodies of work through the decades. I often wonder how many new series we missed and what form they would have taken.”
In addition to her artistic career, Ragan was a champion of progressive causes for women, gay rights, and human rights around the world. She also was a community volunteer and passionate advocate for a variety of national and local organizations, including Southern Poverty Law Center, Special Olympics, and the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
A closing reception for the exhibition will be held Friday, Sept. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m., at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound. The exhibition’s curators and the artist’s son will be on hand to offer brief remarks.
Kittredge Gallery serves as a teaching tool for the art and art history department, and a cultural resource for both the university and the community at large, exhibiting work by noted regional and national artists. Exhibits and talks are free and open to the public.
- Sept. 17, 5 to 7 p.m., Kittredge Gallery
- Gallery Location: University of Puget Sound, N. 15th St. at N. Lawrence St., Tacoma, WA
- Directions and Map: pugetsound.edu/directions
- Regular Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Mon.–Fri.; noon–5 p.m., Saturday
- Website: pugetsound.edu/kittredge
- Facebook: facebook.com/KittredgeGallery