Ronald Scarbough, Detroit artist known for richly detailed drawings, dies at 74

Charles E. Ramirez and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Ronald Scarbough spent decades devoted to art, honing his skills to create masterpieces so richly detailed some observers were surprised he often relied on pencils.

Through his efforts, the artist strived to present to viewers vivid images reflecting life.

"It was about everyday stories," said Carol Jenifer, a longtime friend. "Most of them had a message that told you: 'Look at me more than once.' "

Mr. Scarbough died Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, following a battle with cancer. He was 74.

Ron Scarbough

Detroit Institute of Arts officials announced his death and offered condolences to the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club, an art enthusiast group that supports the fine arts in Metro Detroit, of which Mr. Scarbough was a member.

"A successful artist who had one-man shows at the Flint Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, he also created commissioned works for the Detroit Athletic Club and the Citadel Military Academy of Charleston, South Carolina," they said in a Facebook post. "He was also at one point a member of the DIA family, teaching studio drawing classes and giving artist demonstrations."

Mr. Scarbough also mentored other artists and illustrated 10 books, Jenifer said. "He was an exceptional artist, and his death has left a major hole in the art world in Detroit."

Born in 1946, Mr. Scarbough grew up in Detroit and gravitated toward art early, taking advanced classes as a youth, according to a biography.

He later attended Wayne State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Maryland.

During a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Mr. Scarbough became a technical illustrator and perfected the drawing techniques he would later employ to craft eye-catching pieces.

He went on to connect with what was then the Detroit Artists Market and gained collectors as he showcased his work, friends and relatives said.

At one point, Mr. Scarbough befriended John Falter, the Saturday Evening Post illustrator, through whom he met Norman Rockwell, another influence, Jenifer said.

According to a listing on, Mr. Scarbough was known for "a very delicate and precise cross hatch technique."

While earning renown, the artist inspired others.

Starting in the 1970s, he was among the professionals who visited local schools through the Omni Arts in Education program, according to The Detroit News' archives.

Along with instruction, Mr. Scarbough relished imparting his love of art to others.

"He told me one time: 'Everybody should have a piece of work that they like and it should be displayed in their home prominently,'" Jenifer said.

Mr. Scarbough's work impressed many, and he earned accolades, including through the National Veterans Creative Arts competition, friends said.

Despite his success, he was modest, including when joining with friends at the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club.

Sharon Gamblin, a Royal Oak realtor and club member, said Mr. Scarbough was so quiet that most people didn't know he had a great sense of humor.

Art by Ron Scarbough

"He was a phenomenal artist," she said. "He was just such a good, kind person, just a wonderful heart."

Gamblin posted on the club's Facebook page that a virtual meeting will be held Nov. 16 in Mr. Scarbough's honor.

"He was one of the individuals who made a major difference and really placed a mark on Detroit with his endless talent," she said. "He had a vivid imagination. He told me once that when he was in second or third grade when his teacher would read his class a story, he could see it in front of his eyes like a motion picture."

Survivors include several siblings.

Mr. Scarbough also had close ties to the Palmer Park Art Fair in Detroit. He was a vendor at the first Palmer Park Art Fair held in the '70s and created the poster for the event in 2016, the first year it returned after a 30-year hiatus, Gamblin said.

"He was certainly well-respected" in the field, Mark Loeb, who leads Integrity Shows, which coordinated the event.

Participating in the fair was easy, Mr. Scarbough told The News for a story about the last year.

"Artists don't retire," he said at the time.