They met at a picnic in 1952. He had graduated from Albemarle High School the previous year.
She still had four years ahead of her. He waited for her.
Talmadge and Ruth Moose were born and raised in Stanly County. She grew up in West Albemarle, the eldest child of Ardie and Vera Morris. He was the son of Cecil and Flora Moose and lived south of town towards Norwood where his uncles owned dairy farms – Mooseville he called it.
Ruth says her mother took her to Montaldo’s in Charlotte to buy her wedding dress – a bargain $25. She and Talmadge married at Second Street Presbyterian Church in 1956 after graduating from AHS.
“Talmadge had more ambition than anyone I know,” Ruth said. “He was the first in his family to go to university. UNC-Chapel Hill School of Pharmacy was the plan.
Instead, a last-minute turnaround — more like an admission of his heart’s true desire — landed him at the Richmond Professional Institute at the College of William and Mary where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Although fine art jobs after college proved elusive, Talmadge gained hands-on experience working in commercial art as a technical illustrator and art director and spent his evenings and weekends to do independent design work.
The couple lived for a time in Winston-Salem, then Charlotte, and then by 1972 they were back home in Stanly County, building a house on Stony Mountain designed by Talmadge.
Stanly Technical Institute (now Stanly Community College) hired him to develop and teach the first commercial art courses there. He told an interviewer that some of his students had never seen an original painting, so his teaching plan was to “throw fine art aside because art is art is art.” A student must learn painting before they can learn commercial design.
Ruth says it only took one art book at the Stanly County Library to fuel a child’s appetite for the visual arts. Her husband’s first artistic hero was Norman Rockwell, the 20th-century American painter and illustrator known for his covers of the “Saturday Evening Post.”
Talmadge also developed a fascination with the work of Andrew Wyeth whose favorite subjects were the land and the people around it.
Although Talmadge worked in acrylics, oils and watercolours, Ruth says her favorite medium was carbon pencil. With Eckerd’s No. 2 pencils, he traced meticulous pencil strokes, capturing, as he put it, “the universal in the particular.” Each subject relates to a part of my life, but at the same time it will relate to a part of the life of each viewer. There’s a Stanly County in everyone’s past.
One of Talmadge’s large, award-winning pencil portraits first appeared in a 1970s exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Details of coat buttons, worn spots and wrinkled faces are simpler than the photographs he often worked from. It was a portrait of his grandparents, named “Eight Apiece” and dubbed “Southern Gothic” by an Atlanta art critic who compared it to Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” painting.
While Talmadge’s college education and dreams seemed like “air castles” to her parents, Ruth’s high school courses kept her grounded.
At Albemarle High School, she was placed on the vocational track which involved lessons until noon and then a short walk to City Hall where she worked five afternoons a week and half a day on Saturdays.
Diverse education students weren’t supposed to go to college, but after her marriage she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Pfeiffer College (now Pfeiffer University), then in 1989 a master’s degree. in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. .
Ruth appreciates the skills she has learned through the Diversified Education program.
“Shorthand teaches you how to listen,” she says, and her typing skills served her well for 12 years as she hauled her Smith-Corona typewriter around the Carolinas one week a month for teach poetry and creative writing in schools at all levels. . She says she eventually wore it out typing three columns a week for the Charlotte News.
Years ago in Charlotte, Ruth began writing stories in a short time between caring for two young sons, serving as Talmadge’s “office helper”, attending PTA events and taking music lessons. writing. She turned listening into a tool for writing, using snippets of everyday conversation for her short stories and poetry. She found story ideas in newspapers, headlines and classifieds, and collected character names from obituaries.
Ruth also met other writers through the Charlotte Writers Club, such as Dannye Romine Powell before becoming a Charlotte Observer columnist. And before news of Ruth found its way into glossy magazines. The women gathered in Dannye’s kitchen to share their work in progress and learn to see their own words through someone else’s eyes.
“When we built our Uwharrie home, we included side-by-side studio apartments on the lower level of the house with equal square footage and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the woods and a small stream,” Ruth said. “When we were working, we left each other alone most of the time. Our only rule was that we couldn’t comment on each other’s work in progress.
But they worked together on behalf of the arts in Stanly County through the Stanly County Arts Council. They were co-chairs of the Artist Writer’s Dialogue.
Talmadge has given art exhibits at the Stanly County Public Library, Pfeiffer, and Stanly Community College. Ruth led poetry workshops in six elementary schools, formed writers’ groups and book clubs. She was editor of the Uwharrie Review for several years. She undertook the collection of writings on poverty by NC authors which were published in a small book entitled “I walked”.
Talmadge provided the cover artwork. Ruth’s poems have appeared in various literary journals and her stories in magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, The State (now Our State), and Atlantic Monthly. Her short fictional pieces focused mostly on Southern women, and were full of realism and something that one book reviewer called “Everyday Southern…beauty and dignity amidst life’s nastier details.”
In 1987, Ruth was working as a reference librarian at Pfeiffer while traveling to Greensboro on Monday evenings for her master’s studies at UNCG. She also gave a children’s literature course and worked one morning a week on her first novel.
In 1988, Ruth and Talmadge made a pilgrimage to England on a Writer’s Fellowship from the NC Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. They visited the Dickens House, the homes of Beatrix Potter, John Keats and Jane Austen’s House Museum.
“When the docent turned away, I put my hand on Jane Austen’s desk,” Ruth said.
Ruth’s tenure at Pfeiffer lasted until 1996, when her work caught the attention of the creative writing department at UNC-Chapel Hill. They were looking for a short story writer – Ruth’s first love and a natural candidate. She also taught children’s literature classes and various workshops during her 15 years at the faculty.
She says she always gets wedding invitations from alumni and loves hearing from them.
“A former student started a Netflix series from two of her novels in my class,” Ruth said.
Bridget Huckabee is a writer friend who has known Ruth for many years and praises her ability to criticize without being critical.
“She is a natural teacher, an excellent listener and a generous helper in all aspects of writing. She was the leader of our writer’s group, although she doesn’t admit it. We fell apart when she moved to Chapel Hill.
Talmadge and Ruth were married for 47 years and spent seven years together in Pittsboro before his death in 2003. They raised their sons, Lyle and Barry, and shared a passion for books, art, learning and make a difference. They have won awards too numerous to list and have produced important work to share.
Ruth cried deeply, but she overcame her grief by doing what came naturally to her.
“I was in a writer’s studio in Raleigh and I had to come up with something,” she said.
She gathered the stories around a theme, and with the help of her publisher at St. Andrews University Press, another book came off the presses.
“The Goings on at Glen Arbor Acres” was released in May 2022.
Ruth moved back to Albemarle two years ago to be near her family. She donated 996 Talmadge art books to North Carolina art institutions and the shelves are still overflowing.
Talmadge’s paintings and drawings remind him of his work and his words: “There is beauty in the red clay benches and the people who live there.