Ralph Ray Jr. (1920 – 1952)

Written By Donald Beagle

Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1920 and graduating from Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte in 1939, Ralph Ray, Jr. was a distinguished artist of portraits and landscapes and a nationally known illustrator of magazines and books. Ray is most remembered for his watercolor paintings of birds which have been compared to the works of John James Audubon, Mark Catesby, and Louis Fuertes.

Ray studied at the Ringling Art School in Sarasota, Florida and at the Grand Central Art School in New York, New York. In New York, Ray began illustrating children’s books and published The Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Ways (Oxford University Press, 1946). Philips Electronics and the Insurance Institute of America hired Ray to illustrate their national advertising campaigns, and the artwork he created for the Insurance Institute, in particular, reflected a Norman Rockwell type of idealism and domesticity.  In 1952, at the age of 32, Ralph Ray died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  

Today, much of his artwork can be seen at various museums and art galleries in the southeast, such as the public libraries in Gastonia, North Carolina and Greenwood, South Carolina.  There is also a collection of Ray’s sketches in the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota.

Ray is noted especially for his watercolors depicting birds. Image courtesy of Ann Ray Pendergrass.