Artist and scholar Lydia Miller Ruyle died March 26, a month after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Lydia was best known for her banners dedicated to the celebration of the divine feminine. She was an activist, teacher, sculptor, illustrator, author, a respected voice in the goddess spirituality movement, and a champion for women’s rights.
Lydia was born in Denver, Colorado on Aug. 4 to Lydia Alles Miller and David J. Miller. In 1939, the family moved to Greeley, Colorado, which would become her lifetime home. During her pre-teen years, Lydia’s family temporarily moved to Germany so that her father could serve as a lawyer in the Nuremberg trials. But they returned to Greely by 1948 as Lydia began eighth grade. In 1953, she graduated valedictorian of Greeley Central High School.
Lydia went on to study political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder and, in 1957, graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Not long after, she married her high school sweetheart, Robert Arthur Ruyle (Bob), who she had met a long time before in kindergarten at Cameron Elementary school. When Bob finished law school, the couple and their young family moved from Boulder back to Greeley, where they made their home on land once owned by Lydia’s grandparents.
With a political science and economics background, Lydia began her professional career as a research associate and paralegal. She only picked up art as a hobby or, as noted by her husband, in order “to have something a little bit different to do.” But Lydia was immediately hooked, and began taking classes locally. She eventually applied to the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO), located in her home town of Greely.
But, as she reported, the school would not admit her because she did not have a undergraduate degree in art. Over the next few years, she would take classes to “make up an undergraduate major,” and eventually enrolled in the masters program. She wrote, “After four years in the program, I was told I needed to graduate. I loved doing art at [UNCO] while our three children were in school all day.” She graduated in 1972.
In addition to mastering her craft, she also studied art history, which according to her husband led to her active promotion of the arts in education as well as her involvement in the goddess movement. Bob told local reporters, “I think she ultimately said that the art history books were all about men, and she was on a mission to identify women artists. And then it just started to gravitate into a quest to promote women artists, and women in general.”
During the 1970s and 1980s, Lydia became involved with the local school board, advocating for art education in public schools. She was a member of the Colorado Council Arts and Humanities; she served as chairperson for Art in Public Places and for the Community Arts Councils of Colorado. She was on the board directors for the Northern Colorado Foundation and the Colorado Foundation Arts. She also was part of the organizing committee for the Colorado Group National Museum Women.
In addition, Lydia began teaching print making, art history, and women’s studies at UNCO, and through that teaching brought aspects of the goddess movement to the university. UNCO has since created a Lydia Ruyle Scholar fund for working students, as well as a Lydia Ruyle Room of Women’s Art, which displays both student work and her own.
By the 1990s, her career evolved further as she began to write and illustrate books, and travel extensively, sharing her passion for the arts and women’s spirituality. According to a local paper, “Traveling became a part of her goddess work decades ago, when she started visiting holy sites in England.” She and Bob were regular attendees at the annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference.
In 1994, she began running the Goddess Tours and YaYaJourneys, taking women with on discovery trips around the world to educate them about the divine feminine. According to her husband, “To date, more than 200 women have attended the spiritual journeys with her. They’ve played music, studied and congregated in Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Czech Republic, Russia, Mexico, Peru, the Himalayas, Hawaii and the southwestern United States.” A personal account of one of her more recent journeys is published at Goddess Alive!
As if that wasn’t enough, Lydia began participating in various political actions relating to national issues affecting women. In a post for Matrifocus.com, she describes her experience participating in a 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington. She begins, “YAYA always wanted to march. I participated in 60s protests a bit but wasn’t able to join a large march. When this year’s event finally got my attention, I knew I had to be there, and I invited my family to join me. Ten of us showed up!”
Over the years, Lydia evolved as an artist, beginning with “oil painting, sculpture, lithography, and papermaking.” However, she is best known for the Goddess Banners, which she called “her girls.” The collection includes “over 300 sacred female images from different cultures.” Attendees at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City had the privilege of viewing 100 of these banners lining the ballroom hall. “The girls” have been “exhibited in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the United Nations World Conference on Women, and throughout the world, including England, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Nepal, Peru, Russia and Turkey.”
In 2014, forty of her Goddess banners disappeared and reappeared during their journey to Seattle for the 22nd Annual Women of Wisdom Conference. Blogger Judith Laura published Lydia’s account of the harrowing experience. She begins, “The Goddess Banners have traveled millions of miles around the globe since their debut at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey in 1995. I’ve schlepped them in my luggage, sent them with friends, trusted chaperones, UPS, Royal Mail, US Postal Service, DHL, FEDEX, etc. But sometimes, the girls take detours much to my concern and dismay.”
In February 2016, Lydia was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She requested that her family and friends hold a memorial for her while she was still alive. She wanted to be there for it. Per that request, on Feb. 20, her loved ones gathered at Zoe’s Cafe in Greeley. As reported by the local paper, “[She] sat on an armchair draped in deep red and shimmering silver fabrics….For more than an hour, she had watched women perform religious rituals, praise her impact on their lives and sing her songs they wrote….Her daughter took her hand, walked her off the chair and slowly guided her between circles of people.” As she walked by, people shared what “she meant to them…through tears and smiles.”
On Mar. 26, around 7:30 am, Lydia passed away peacefully in her sleep. Her husband, who had been providing round-the-clock care, “woke up [early Saturday morning], went to check on his wife and held her hand. When he returned a short while later, she had stopped breathing.”
Blogger Judith Laura wrote, “When I contacted Lydia several years ago to ask if I could use her banner art on the cover of the third edition of my book, She Lives! The Return of Our Great Mother, she did not hesitate to say yes, and gave me innumerable banners from which to make my selection. I will always be grateful for her generosity.”
Candace Kant, dean of students at Cherry Hill Seminary and professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said, “Lydia was such a lovely woman, and her work has enlightened people all over the world about the beauty of Goddess. Her banners embody all the love and wisdom of Goddess.”
Close friend Anne Key said, “Lydia Ruyle strived to bring images of the female divine to broader audiences. This was her life work–her heart’s work. Her beauty, love, and passion are greatly missed. But when I close my eyes, I can hear her laugh, see her smile, and feel her hand on my shoulder. ”
Lydia has touched a world of people, quite literally, through her personality and her work, and through her drive to uplift the place of women in society. Her acclaimed banners have inspired many, providing a doorway to both learn about and celebrate the divine feminine in its many forms. Lydia has left a powerful artistic legacy – one that transcends the practicality of art and emanates a spirit that can only speak through image. She will live on through both the personal memories of her loved ones and friends, as well as through the continued travels of “her girls.”
Services were held at 11:00 am, Thursday, March 31, at the First Congregational Church, 2101 10th Street, Greeley, CO. Memories and other tributes can be offered through Allnutt.com.
What is remembered, lives.
* * *
All banner photos above were taken at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City and are © Greg Harder 2015.