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Updated: November 21, 2022 @ 5:34 pm
Dabney Ruffin

Dabney Ruffin
Dabney Ruffin is a local artist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina who focuses on oil painting. Her passion for art began as a young child where she spent time tracing. “I honestly didn’t know I had much of an interest until high school,” Ruffin revealed “I tore my ACL and took a ceramics class because I couldn’t participate in athletics. I could have spent every day in the studio.” Ceramics class is where Ruffin’s career interest in art began. Ruffin originally attended the University of Colorado in 2009 where she declared a major in art and minor in psychology. During her studies at CU she worked in printmaking, painting, and sculpture with wire.  She continued her undergraduate studies at Salem College – following the same path as her two great aunts.
While at Salem College, Ruffin recalls her two most influential professors, Kim Varnadoe and Sharon Hardin. Ruffin declared her concentration in oil painting, and graduated from Salem College in 2013. During January Term, Salem College’s experience for students to focus on internships, professional work, and community service, Ruffin traveled to Lexington, VA where she interned at the Lexington Artists Co-op. While there, she worked with Marsha Heatwole, who was the first person to teach Ruffin how to build her own canvas.  Ruffin described her internship and experience working alongside Heatwole as “very influential.”
Dabney Ruffin is featured in the exhibition Women in the Arts: Celebrating 250 Years of Salem Academy and College which is guest curated by Kim Varnadoe. The exhibit is currently on display in the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts through March 26, 2022. Her piece The Rock Series #1 Oil on Canvas is featured in the exhibit. Ruffin’s piece originated from a larger body of work that was displayed in a two-person show in the Mary Davis Holt Gallery located in the Elberson Fine Arts Center on Salem College’s Campus.
“I had gotten to this place in painting and in art where I had gotten a lot of pressure to create work for them. . . something that wasn’t for me,” Ruffin expressed. She recalled her change in creative perspective as taking mundane objects such as rocks and using the medium of oil painting to make them eye catching. “I was picking up rocks and I found myself more interested in the material and the process,” Ruffin shared as she was describing her creative process of making paintings for her Rock Series.
Dabney is an artist, a mother, and a full-time employee. She became a mother in 2018. During her pregnancy, she recalls that she had to stop painting because of the fumes involved while working on her craft. She had to explore new mediums to express her creativity. Ruffin got into gardening and turned that into her niche. “The first garden I ever created was the year my son was born,” Ruffin shared “I laid my garden out like an art piece. . . it was like sculpture almost; that was my way of still being able to find creativity in my life.” She even used the vegetables she grew to inspire watercolor sketches. She later learned how to use a sewing machine and made her son Foster Gardner a Halloween costume. She found ways to incorporate her creativity and artisanship into her family life. “From painting to crafting. . . I was finding anyway possible to make creativity fit into my life,” Ruffin stated.
When asked if she had any advice for artists who share similar experiences Ruffin responded, “You have to just start. The hardest part is just putting down that first brush stroke.” Her commitment to working with children dates to time spent at Arts for Life, a non-profit that supports kids with cancer. Ruffin volunteered for the organization for three years. During her time there she sparked a collaboration with Arts for Life and the Art-O-Mat. In addition, Dabney Ruffin has worked with several other non-profit organizations such as IFB Solutions and the Wachovia Garden with Home Moravian Church.  Ruffin has also completed commission work for Stella Brew, a neighborhood craft beer and wine market in the Ardmore neighborhood of Winston-Salem. During her two-year commission project, she participated in live painting where community members could observe, interact, and ask questions during the work process.
Today, Dabney works with A Bridge to Achievement as a Behavioral Analysis Technician. She begins her graduate program in February at Bay Path University. Ruffin will be earning her Master’s in Applied Behavioral Analysis with a concentration in autism spectrum disorder. Following graduate school, she will pursue a certification to become a board-certified analyst BCBA.
Arts Council is the chief advocate of the arts and cultural sector in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Our goal is to serve as a leader in lifting up, creating awareness and providing support to grow and sustain artistic, cultural and creative offerings throughout our region.
We acknowledge that it takes every voice, every talent, and every story to make our community a great place to live, work, and play. Arts Council is committed to serving as a facilitator, organizer, and promoter of conversations that are authentic, inclusive, and forward-thinking.
There are over 800,000 art experiences taking place in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County annually. To learn more about upcoming arts and culture events happening in our community please visit
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