Foundersland: Four Women Leaders of Ryman Arts

By Marty Sklar, Founder, Past President, Chairman of Leadership Council

Of course there are more than four women who have been so important to the growth and success of Ryman Arts. Two – Marshall Ayers and Diane Brigham --  have served as our Executive Director, the guiding spirit and key administrator in building an organization recognized as one of the most creative and impactful arts organization in America. Marshall served our first 10 years as Executive Director, and today continues to encourage high school talent as a member of our Board of Directors. Diane, who came to us with a rich background in teaching and leadership as head of education at the Getty, is now in her 15th year as Ryman Arts Executive Director, establishing a record of achievement second to none in an arts organizations.

But I write today about four other women, all Ryman Arts Founders, whose vision and service have played a key role in creating and establishing this organization’s leadership role in serving and developing high school artistic talent. They are:

  • Lucille Ryman Carroll
  • Sharon Disney Lund
  • Anne Price
  • Leah Sklar

All began this journey 26 years ago with the same vision: the desire to honor the dedication of Herbert Dickens Ryman to teaching and growing talented young artists. Herb was not just one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists, chosen to draw the first illustrations of Disneyland. He was always available to help his fellow artists at Walt Disney Imagineering with advice and knowledge gained from his training, his travels and a life-long career in illustration for motion pictures and the Disney theme parks.

With Herb’s passing at age 81, his sister, Lucille Ryman Carroll, introduced the idea of creating a foundation dedicated to teaching the skills Herb Ryman had personified – the traditional foundation skills of drawing and painting Herb had learned at the Chicago Art Institute. Thus began “The Ryman Program for Young Artists,” and the establishment soon after of Ryman Arts, spearheaded by Herb’s friends, the original founders: Lucille Ryman Carroll, Sharon Disney Lund, Anne and Harrison (Buzz) Price and Leah and Marty Sklar.

Lucille Ryman Carroll

Lucille Ryman Carroll’s commitment to the Foundation was both financial and emotional: she was the heir of Herb Ryman’s art world – paintings, sketches, drawings, writings and other memorabilia. All ultimately became part of the program that evolved from one class of 12 in 1990, to today’s 40 classes at two sites on weekends, serving as many as 300 students each week. And of course, thanks to Lucille, much of this material was incorporated into the wonderful coffee-table book, “A Brush with Disney, An Artist’s Journey Told Through the Words and Works of Herbert Dickens Ryman.”

Sharon Disney Lund

Sharon Disney Lund’s family connections with Herb Ryman were long and strong. At the request of her father, Walt Disney, both Sharon and her sister Diane sat for Herb Ryman portraits, and Herb was a dinner guest at the Disney home in Holmby Hills.

In the early days of our program, Sharon was the “secret weapon” – quietly accessible as the benefactor who purchased a new computer if the office needed it, and providing supplies and support where and whenever needed. Her commitment to the arts – including of course CalArts, the “school of all the arts” her father founded – are legendary. We know that without Sharon’s support, there would be no Ryman Arts today.

That commitment is, in fact, carried on today by her daughter, Michelle, a  member of the Ryman Arts Board of Directors, and the Lund Foundation, whose recent “matching fund” incentive gift to our endowment will serve us for years to come. (You can learn more about this opportunity here and by contacting the Ryman Arts office). And of course, it all leads back to Sharon Disney Lund’s friendship with Herb Ryman, and her belief in the idea of teaching young artists and growing good citizens through this program.

Anne Price

Anne Price was the lady in the back of the room you thought was mostly keeping her gregarious husband, Buzz, from dominating all conversations. But in fact, when the key moment came in a Board discussion, it was frequently Anne whose “Have you considered this?” comment or question stopped the wordsmiths in their tracks – and led directly to a solution. A talented vocalist in younger days, her love of music and art, and her participation in and support of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, were legendary. Anne and Buzz, like Sharon, also contributed a talented Board Member to carry on for them. Son David serves Ryman Arts as Vice-President of the Board.

Leah Sklar

Never last or least is my spouse, Leah Sklar. Many of you know her mostly as the charming greeter at the front door of our home during a dozen or so evenings of our popular fund-raiser, “An Affair of the Art.” But Leah’s ideas, her “voice of reason” and enthusiasm were always pointed in the right direction to grow our Ryman Arts program. And I cannot recall one Board discussion where Leah ever had a higher priority than the student artists in our program.

Someday, when the history of Ryman Arts is written, of course the author will mention the male members of the Board (and Founders). But arguably, these four women will always stand out –not because they craved recognition, but because they were the quiet voices in the background, playing a major role in creating an environment of inspiration and trust where all of us – Board Members, Ryman staff, students, volunteers and our legion of supporters – could build and grow and serve and learn. And isn’t that what education is all about?