Past Exhibits: Ruth Faison Shaw

Lady of Destiny, User of all Life

The collection of Ruth Faison Shaw's works that formerly resided at the Chapel Hill Museum now resides with the Ruth Faison Shaw Foundation in Durham, NC.


Born in Kenansville, North Carolina in 1889, Ruth Faison Shaw has contributed immeasurably to the development of American art and art therapy through her simple creation - finger painting.

Ms.Shaw made her way to Europe during the first World War. She ended up in Rome running a school for English-speaking children, and there she received the inspiration that eventually led to the patenting of Shaw's Finger Paints in 1931.

Having sent a young boy to the bathroom to cleanse his cut finger with iodine, Shaw discovered the boy using the iodine instead to draw on the tile walls with his fingers. The hands, she realized, were a perfect and natural medium for expression.

The Chapel Hill Museum's exhibit on Ruth Faison Shaw focuses on telling the story of how she developed finger painting, spread it through her teachings and sale of Shaw Finger paints by Binney & Smith, the makers of Crayola crayons. In addition, the exhibition pays considerable attention to Shaw's major contribution to art therapy. Beginning in the 1940s at the innovate Menninger clinic in Kansas, Shaw used finger painting as a medium of expression and self-exploration for the mentally ill.

She continued this work with UNC's Department of Psychiatry after she moved back to Chapel Hill in the 1950s. For children and the mentally ill alike, Shaw believed that finger painting could give expression to feelings, desires, and troubles for which they might have no words. If art is form of communication, Shaw believed that everyone has something to say and finger painting was the most appropriate and effective means to do so.

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