Ruth Fortel, senior class portrait in Hatchet (1951), Washington University in St. Louis. Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections.
Ruth Fortel, untitled painting, ca. 1950s. Oil on canvas, 42 x 55 in. Courtesy Bob Smith Fine Art, Montrose, PA.

32. Ruth Becker Fortel

Life Dates1923-2001
Place of Birthunknown
Place of DeathNew York, NY, USA
Birth NameRuth Becker Fortel

Ruth Becker Fortel attended Washington University in St. Louis, graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.1 There, she studied printmaking with Atelier 17 alumnus Fred Becker (no relation), who had established the university’s printmaking program in 1948. She exhibited her mostly abstract work locally in St. Louis after graduation, showing some prints with fellow Becker students and some canvases.2 Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City and enrolled at Atelier 17 for the spring semester of 1952.3 None of her prints from this period are known, though there are several examples of her abstract paintings available for purchase through commercial galleries. Fortel joined the Area Gallery, one of the cooperative galleries that opened in the Tenth Street corridor in the 1950s, and served as its treasurer.4 She remained an active member of the city’s downtown arts scene through the 1970s, befriending other painters like Minerva Durham and Virginia Admiral, who was then married to the artist Robert De Niro, Sr.5 Fortel became involved with Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, and she volunteered for many years as the New York center’s librarian.6


  1. Thank you to Sonya Rooney, University Archivist, for providing information about Fortel’s attendance at Washington University in St. Louis.
  2. “Modern Art Rocks Patrons at Tony’s on N. Broadway,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1951, 3; “Thalinger Again Wins Kiel Art Show Prize,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 21, 1951, 16; Howard Derrickson, “Art and Artists: Washington U. Print Display,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 1951, 70.
  3. Student ledger book, p. 17, Allentown Art Museum/Grippe Collection, Allentown, Penn
  4. Bard, Tenth Street Days, 60. Fortel donated her papers about Area Gallery to the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and she also contributed to the collection of papers regarding the above cited exhibition: Joellen Bard’s, Ruth Fortel’s, and Helen Thomas’ exhibition records of “Tenth Street Days: the Co-ops of the 50s,” 1953-1977.
  5. Minerva Durham, “Bob the Painter: Memories of Robert De Niro, Sr.,” The Villager, January 29, 2015.
  6. Thank you to Lynn Micelli, former director of the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) NY Center, for connecting me to others at the Center who knew Fortel.