The Everett Ruess Story - Part I

In support of the Everett Ruess Block Prints on exhibit at Frontier Homestead, we thought an exploration into the early life of the artist would be in order. Part I deals with his early life, influences, and travels. Part II, next week, covers his later journey's and his mysterious disappearance. The following is excerpted from Everett Ruess - A Vagabond for Beauty.


Ruess was born in Oakland, California in 1914 to Stella and Christopher Ruess. He had one brother, Waldo, four years his senior. As a family, they lived in different parts of California, finally settling in Los Angeles. His mother was an artist and arts educator, as well as a writer who subscribed to the philosophy of Isadora Duncan, the free-spirited dancer of the early 1900s. Stella Ruess was a romantic, devoted to the arts and seemed to have the greatest influence on Everett's attitudes and lifestyle. She encouraged him in his quest for art, beauty, and the pursuit of a meaningful life.

Everett's father, Christopher, helped Everett to develop philosophically and intellectually. His professional career as probation officer, minister, and social worker was guided by his interest and devotion to education and philosophy. Waldo, his brother, had secured a career in government, and later, as a businessman. He offered stability and support to Everett, both emotionally and financially. The family all supported Everett in his odyssey through the wilderness because they believed he would emerge a more capable, refined visual artist, able to definitively interpret his surroundings and experiences. As a matter of fact, Everett's aptitude and forte turned out to be his writing, even though his block prints were executed with finesse.

In 1930, at the age of sixteen, Everett set out on his first solitary trip along the Pacific Coast. He hitchhiked from Los Angeles as far north as Carmel, introduced himself to the photographer, Edward Weston, and painted, wrote and worked out some block prints. He slept by the sea, met and socialized with various campers and hikers, sold pieces of his art and described his experience in great detail.

Everett with his dog and burro

Everett with his dog and burro

He returned to Los Angeles and finished high school then prepared for a subsequent journey to Monument Valley, Utah. He hitchhiked and walked and arrived on the Navajo Nation with no money or food, only the pack on his back with his personal belongings and art supplies. He traveled throughout the Four Comers area, eventually acquiring a pack burro and a pet dog. He survived by working odd jobs, selling a little artwork, and bartering (such as a shotgun for a donkey). He also received packages regularly from his family, which included money, clothing, food and other niceties such as puppy biscuits for his dog. He continued to write letters, journal his experiences, and work at improving his visual art.