From Dentistry to Sculpting: The Story of Jamaican artist, Ronald Moody

 

Ronald Moody, a Jamaican artist, stumbled into the field of sculpting by chance and his creative ambition to make a mark with his carvings has endured the test of time. Originally trained as a dentist, he changed careers after visiting the British Museum’s Egyptian galleries in the late 1920s. The impact left on his creative mind by the still Egyptian sculptures blossomed into a burning enthusiasm that finally inspired his sculpting profession.

While in school, Ronald may have unwittingly left signs of his artistic enthusiasm. According to the University College of London, as a dental student, he frequently found himself in the company of artists who engaged him in philosophical discussions centered on Indian and Chinese philosophy, a theme that became the basis of his art and spiritual life, and one that inspired many global contemporary sculptors who learned from his imposing works.

The Jamaican artist began carving wood in the 1930s, completing his first work, “Wohin,” in 1934. Despite the fact that he created other works, including “Johanaan” in 1936 and “Midonz” in 1937, his prized work was the Midonz. The Midonz’s art embodied pre-Columbian and ancient Egyptian traditions, but it also helps to explain Ronald’s initial encounter with the afro comb.

In his postwar memoirs, he bemoaned his inability to rescue the Midonz, which had become stranded in the United States following the war. He fled to Paris with his wife before the German invasion and had to spend months in Marseilles before returning to England safely. The lingering effects of the conflict did not have as big of an impact on him as his endeavors to rescue his artworks. Except for the Midonz, he was able to retrieve 11 of the 12 artworks that were imprisoned in the United States.

Ronald was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1900, and immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1923. During this time, he decided to study dentistry at the Royal Dental Hospital, King’s College, London. In 1930, he became a dentist, but as he revealed in his writings, it was the world of sculpting that got the best of him. His interest in ancient Egypt affected his writing and painting. He described in a 1950 BBC radio broadcast on Egyptian Art how his visit to the British Museum forged an unbreakable relationship between him and the wooden comb, which he thought was a proof of exquisite craftsmanship. Researchers discovered that this comb helped explain the origins of the Afro comb.

His individual paintings garnered him invitations to participate in a number of shows. Ronald’s art was shown in the 1935 exhibition on African Art at the Adams Gallery in Pall Mall, as well as in the Harmon Foundation’s 1939 exhibition ‘Current Negro Art’ at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In 1937 and 1938, he had solo exhibitions in Paris and Amsterdam.

Cynthia Moody, Ronald’s niece who has been conducting research on his work, discovered how significant the Midonz were to him. As a trustee of his archive, she tracked down the painting at the Hampton University Museum in Virginia and assisted in its retrieval in 1994.

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