My dear friend, confidant, former business partner, sister-friend, surrogate big sister and sometimes mother-figure, Ruth Dunn, aka Ruth Sinclair, made her transition to the realm of the ancestors on Friday, August 27th. I had spoken to her just days before she went into the hospital, and she seemed quite fine. She was there exactly one week before she expired.
Anu and Ruth circa 1992
When I first met Ms. Ruth (as she is affectionately known), @RuthDunnArtist I was in my early 20’s, and Ruth was in her mid-30’s. It was the late 70’s, and Ruth was married with three children, attending the University of Miami, majoring in fine arts with a focus on ceramics. She says I took her path in another direction when I taught her to braid hair, and she began creating gorgeous, braided styles. Using hair as her canvas, she then put ceramics on the back burner. With a BS and a BA from the University of Miami under her belt, Ruth’s last degree was a BFA from the University of North Florida at the age of 72, in 2017. Even after graduating, this mother of 3 adult children, and grandmother, continued to take courses, expanding her skills in digital art. Ruth’s modus operandi was creativity. She was always pursuing education, learning and creating, and she could wax on ad nauseum about the creative process.
Ruth & Anu for Kaneka America – Video on braiding hair Circa 1994
Some folks know, and some don’t, that in the early ’90s, Ruth and I forged a business partnership. We opened a Khamit Kinks hair salon in Atlanta, GA and together, we worked towards building the brand. I returned to New York and continued at the original location while she took over total ownership of the Atlanta salon.
Essence Magazine shoot of Iman in Amy Fine’s book, “Hair Styles.” Hair by Khamit Kinks duo Anu Prestonia & Ruth Sinclair
Overall, Ruth became the Khamit Kinks creative director, taking our styles to the next level of high art. At the same time, I functioned as the technical director, making sure the styles were executed to perfection. We became the dynamic duo! We were offered a huge platform at Bronner Brothers Shows in the early ’90s. We taught workshops there on natural hair, participated in their hair shows and Ruth was their spokesperson for natural hair. Several of our collaborations appeared in Essence Magazine, in Sophisticated Black Hair Care, and countless other hair magazines, along with Amy Fine’s celebrated coffee table book, “Hair Styles.” Ruth and I were the only Blacks and only women hair professionals who appeared in that book.
Ruth doing make-up backstage for Hair Show for Cancer Awareness – circa 1998
One of Ruth’s stylists, Dana Taber created a style of large cornrows. When Ruth brought these oversized cornrows to New York in the early ’90s, I quickly coined them “Goddess Braids,” a style that ignited the imaginations of many women who had never considered having their hair braided until seeing our Goddess Braids in Essence Magazine. We were inundated with sisters calling from around the country to book appointments for Goddess Braids. During that period, Ruth and I held some incredible photo sessions together documenting our work.
Goddess Braids – by Khamit Kinks for Essence Magazine
Due to her keen ability to create and visualize, Ruth was hired by Kaneka America (trademarked Kanekelon), the largest creator and importers of synthetic hair, to design synthetic textures. The textures Ruth designed emulated naturally curly and kinky hair, making these textures more affordable than their human hair counterparts. Ruth was also asked to design fun color palates for synthetic hair. So, you see, her contributions to the natural hair industry extended beyond just creating hairstyles.
Ruth at a Bronner Brother’s Show
On a personal note, Ruth was the kind of person who attracted people like bees to honey because she was gracious, generous, smart, and funny, with a natural comedic tendency, and she also possessed psychic abilities. In the early 2000s, Ruth had a side career as a psychic. She had a special gift of insight, the ability to see through to the true meaning of a situation and to understand what a person might need from life or her. I recall her telling me that, for so long, she thought she was just smart, only to learn that she was actually psychic.
Ruth at the Khamit Kinks & Anu Prestonia Tribute Sept. 2019
I can’t begin to tell you the many times she showed up in my life at pivotal moments to offer guidance or unsolicited advice. And I don’t mean she just called me or drove over from a few miles or a few blocks away. I mean she boarded a plane and flew to New York to be there for me. When I look back, how she gave of herself and how much she loved, supported, and protected me is rather incredible. I don’t really recall her saying she loved me…but she showed it in profound ways. In hindsight, I realize Ruth loved me as much as my own mother loves me. Hers was is a pure and selfless love.
Anu & Ruth at the Head’s Up Heritage Show in Long Island University in Brooklyn, 2009
That leads me to wonder what I ever did to deserve this kind of love and devotion. I do know that I already miss picking up the phone and calling her, hearing her voice, listening to her insight, and experiencing deep guttural laughs from some of the truly humorous things she would say. Ruth put the “one” in the phrase, “one of a kind.” She was larger-than-life in body, mind, and spirit, and often told me that God gave her this huge body to force her to sit down and be still, which caused her to be observant and contemplative, which I believe nourished her insight and wisdom. Ruth was real and raw, and speaking of her size, she once shared how sick she was of people telling her to lose weight because it would be good for her health and would help her live longer. To that, she quipped, “…they keep telling me to lose weight for my health, and in the meantime, skinny bitches are dropping dead all around me; I have yet to attend the funeral of a fat person.” Having had 4 husbands, she also had something salty to say to those who mistakenly thought a woman’s size impeded her capacity for attraction. Yeah, Ms. Ruth would tell it like it was and would keep it real with humor.
Artwork by Ruth Dunn 2018
In her final years, one of Ruth’s greatest desires was to have her work exhibited at Art Basel, in Miami, where she lived. I love her new medium of painting very colorful and geometric images of women. It is my hope that her work will someday be exhibited at Art Basel, postmortem, and I will make every effort to have that happen. I love you, Ruth, always. And thank you, Ms. Ruth, for your loving care. May you continue to travel in the light, my dear friend. I will keep you forever near and dear.
Art by Ruth Dunn 2018