The Arts: Batik Exhibit is Explosion of Color and Themes

By Linda Lamberty

An explosion of color and themes welcomes visitors to the exhibit of works by the late Ethel Wirtshafter (1909-2009) at Ridge Historical Society (RHS), 10621 S. Seeley Ave. The art works all clearly show the exquisite touch of the much-loved local artist.
RHS has the distinct honor to have these works, most on loan from the John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, the Beverly Arts Center and a number of personal collections, on display through Feb. 24.

Predominantly composed of the artist’s very distinctive batiks, as well as informative text by another local artist, Mary Lenzini, the exhibit describes Wirtshafter’s life, art and technique. Visitors who knew Wirtshafter, a long time neighborhood resident, have remarked how wonderful it is to see so many of her creations gathered in one space.
Born and raised in Chicago, Wirtshafter came from an artistically gifted family and was blessed with an innate love of nature. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1931, where scenery painting for the theater department ultimately led her to a lifetime making and teaching art.
From scoring and printing linoleum blocks by candlelight in the Pacific Northwest, to photographing celebrities at the Edgewater Beach Hotel back in Chicago, to marriage, motherhood, world travel and over 45 years teaching children’s art classes at the Vanderpoel gallery, Ethel Wirtshafter lived life with gusto.  She passed away half a year short of her century mark, leaving behind a most prolific body of work, and countless fans.
Years ago when selling at the Beverly Art Fair on the grounds of Morgan Park Academy, Wirtshafter said how much she loved the way her batiks looked hanging on a line with sunlight behind them. Consequently, an effort has been made in the RHS exhibit to backlight all works that are unframed or have open backs.
One outstanding batik included the exhibit is of a mythological griffin and was discovered on eBay. The seller, having found it at an estate sale in Naples, Fla., had no idea of the identity of the artist, the age of the piece or the medium, suggesting in the description that it might be painted hide or part of an ancient text. It popped up using only Wirtshafter’s signature, “ELW,” as a search term. The beautiful piece is now in the appreciative buyer’s collection.
To schedule a visit to see the exhibit, call 773-881-1675 or email ridgehistory@hotmail.com.  School groups are welcome after the first of the year. Visit ridgehistoricalsociety.org to learn about RHS and upcoming events.