In Memoriam: Ron Yrabedra

Ron Yrabedra, Facebook

Ron Yrabedra, who earned two degrees in art from UA and worked as a popular artist and a professor of art at Florida A&M University, died February 18, 2022, at his home in Tallahassee, Florida.

Yrabedra earned a BFA from The University of Alabama in 1967. His senior year artist Lee Krasner was invited to Tuscaloosa to present the first exhibition in the newly renovated University Gallery (now the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art). During that time she traveled to the Black Belt to visit the craftswomen of the Freedom Quilting Bee and bought quilts to take back to New York. Yrabedra later reminisced about that time, describing it as a pivotal experience for him, especially when he and instructor and PhD student Jeri Richardson collected and delivered fabric pieces to the rural collective to use in quilts. He remembers “marveling at the [women’s] ingenious patterns, color use, and textures — a memory that affects my own painting to this day.”

While he was still a graduate student, Yrabedra taught art to first graders in newly desegrated Cottondale Elementary School, in a small town (then) ten miles east of Tuscaloosa. “On the first day of class, he gave my first grade class an unforgettable lesson of how to pronounce his unusual sounding name,” said Rachel Dobson, also an art alumna and now staff in the department of art and art history. “I have an indelible image of Mr. Yrabedra standing up in front of the class, smiling and very tall, and talking directly to us. Then he turned around and drew in white chalk across the blackboard: a large ear, then a plus sign, an ‘A’, then another plus sign, then a four-poster bed, and another plus and then ‘RA.’  (Ear + A + Bed + RA) He made the pronunciation crystal clear by giving us a mathematical equation. I loved him. He was my first art teacher.”

After his BFA degree, Yrabedra earned a master’s degree in painting and ceramics at UA and then went to Florida State University where he earned a Ph.D. in art education. In 1974 he was hired to teach art at one of the largest HBCUs in the country, Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, and taught there for three decades. He served as the director of the Lemoyne Art Foundation, was a faculty member for the Florida Institute for Art Education, and won numerous awards and grants, including three from the Florida Department of State – Division of Cultural Affairs. He also won a grant to study the African American subjects of nineteenth-century white photographer Alvan S. Harper. Yrabedra was known around Tallahassee for his charity work, especially in educating underserved children and teenagers in art.

Yrabedra consciously tried, he said in an artist statement, to keep “irony and doubt” out of his work and create positive imagery. He described his artworks as “hieroglyphic in their basic impact and are linked to diverse cultures. In the post-modern world, culture, classes, and ethnic groups have at their disposal information which transfigures each of these societal units. And art is subject to these transformations. The artist, likewise, is an agent who is free to pick and choose from traditions, images, and ideas once handed down within groups. By doing so, it is his responsibility to enlarge and elaborate his material for new audiences, to explore human values, and to discover new meaning through his knowledge of human experience.”

Ron Yrabedra’s artworks are in the corporate collections of numerous companies and in many private collections, including U.S. Senator Bob Graham, AT&T, Florida A & M University, and St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee.