Skip to main content

Ernest and Ruth (work of art)

Artwork Info

83 × 96 × 24 inches (210.8 × 243.8 × 61 centimeters)


Gift of Pat and Tom Gipson
© Hank Willis Thomas

Object Number

Key Ideas

  • These interactive speech bubble benches frame the natural environment. They offer visitors a place to sit and interact with the works of art and with each other. 
  • The names in the title of this work refer to the artist’s great-grandfather and grandmother.
  • The black outline of the speech bubbles references the pop art style of classic comic books.
  • This sculpture is an example of public art as well as conceptual art. Public art is installed in a public space. It is visually and physically accessible to the public. In conceptual art the idea presented by the artist is more important than how the work looks. 
  • Hank Willis Thomas is an American conceptual artist. He uses pop culture symbols and imagery to explore themes of race, identity, history, mass media, and consumerism.

Learn More

Ernest and Ruth was commissioned for the Museum Park in 2015. According to the artist, the sculpture is intended to serve as interactive benches that invite people to sit and think about how they “inhabit their own speech and beliefs.” Hank Willis Thomas created these comic book-inspired speech bubbles from steel plate and pipe. He named the work after his grandmother, Ruth Willis, and her father, Ernest Holman. 

I’m very much into interactivity in work and work that inspires viewers to become participants.

Hank Willis Thomas

Thomas is a conceptual artist who lives and works in New York. He often uses symbols and imagery from American pop culture in his work to explore themes of race, identity, history, mass media, and consumerism. Much of his artwork is inspired by events from the civil rights movement and his experience as a Black American. Thomas creates a wide range of art forms: sculptures, public art installations, photography, screen-printing, neon, and mixed media.

Ernest and Ruth is popular on social media. Museum Park visitors regularly post photos of themselves sitting inside or standing near the sculpture. 

All of my work is about framing and context and how, depending on where you stand, it affects what you see. And as a photographer, these works are frames. The idea of not only making images but making work that encourages other people to make images is really exciting.

Hank Willis Thomas

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers


Resources for Students


  • Two large black sculptures of the outlines of speech bubbles in an outdoor setting. There is pine straw on the ground below and surrounding the sculptures. There are tall trees in the background and a sidewalk in the foreground.

    Ernest and Ruth