In her book about growing up in Lonaconing, MD, Ruth Bear Levy (1898-1994) wrote about how “modern artists could create masterpieces out of the sights and sounds of Lonaconing,” how a “painter could paint the shapes and dark and light contours of the area” and how “all the pastel colors could be rolled out of the tubes for the pink, green and brown syrups covering fruits and ices in the ice cream parlors.”
The Garrett County native did not begin painting until later in life. Once she did start making pictures, she often drew from her memories of her hometown, primarily a Scottish mining community, during her turn of the century childhood.
In A Wee Bit O’Scotland: Growing Up in Lonaconing, Maryland, Levy depicted kids playing ball and jumping rope, her father’s general store, interiors, people working, coal cars and scenic views of the Western Maryland countryside.
Ruth Bear Levy grew up playing ball with Hall of Fame baseball player Lefty Grove. They were childhood friends in Lonaconing. She always loved baseball and did a series of baseball paintings — many inspired by Lefty.
Her family was musical: her mother played the piano and Ruth played the mandolin. Her father’s store was called “M. Bear’s Daylight Clothing Store”; he served on the Lonaconing city council. Levy’s paternal grandfather emigrated from Bavaria and settled in Frostburg. Ruth’s father moved eight miles to Lonaconing where he opened his store and got married. Her maternal grandfather Eisenberg emigrated from Austria-Hungary and settled in Cleveland, OH and then in Cumberland, MD. He opened a store there with his three sons and became a founder of the Reform Jewish Temple.
Levy traveled throughout childhood to visit her three uncles in Baltimore and to tour Washington, DC, Pittsburgh and Cleveland with her family. Ruth Bear Levy eventually left Lonaconing for Baltimore in pursuit of a degree in English at Goucher College. In Baltimore, she met her husband, urologist Dr. Charles Levy, a Johns Hopkins graduate.
Levy wrote that it was not until after she was married for 21 years or more and her son returned from service in the Navy during World War II that she had met painter Herman Maril, whose work along with that of other important Maryland artists of the period is characterized in part by the use of pastel tones. She studied with Maril as a private student beginning in about 1954.
“I had never been interested in painting before,” Levy wrote. “But now a childhood urge returned to express my most innermost feelings, to be productive, to record, and I began putting my thoughts on canvas under Herman’s sensitive, skillful tutelage. Later I worked under Walter Bohanan’s guidance. The pictures in this book are among the results.”