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Museum to honor art history author with award

Ruth Westphal, a Newport Beach resident and native Californian, has had a longtime passion for art, specifically early California Impressionism.

June 28, 2012|By Jenny Stockdale, Special to the Daily Pilot
  • Ruth Westphal, left, and Bob Ehrlich reminisce about her groundbreaking 1982 book, "Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland," in her Newport Beach home. Westphal drew inspiration from Ehrlich, one of the first private collections she saw early on when putting the book together.
Ruth Westphal, left, and Bob Ehrlich reminisce about… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Renaissance woman and Newport Beach resident Ruth Westphal, 80, is a self-titled, life-long "gallery hopper."

Though her professional trajectory placed her in a teaching career and at the helm of her own successful business, her passion for art has carved out a significant place in her life.

The results of her artistic investment went on to enrich countless art history projects and helped raise the bar for chronicling artists and their work. Westphal compiled three books on California artists in the '80s and '90s that laid the groundwork for a comprehensive examination of early California Impressionism and scene painting.

For her efforts, Laguna Art Museum will honor Westphal on Saturday evening with the first California Art Award, created by the museum to recognize contributions to the study and increased awareness of California art.

Westphal's fascination with early California art stemmed from her initial exposure to Laguna Art Museum's 1979 exhibit "Southern California Artists: 1890-1940."

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When she learned from the museum's then director, Tom Enman, that information about these artists was lacking, Westphal made it her personal goal to document and archive their substantial body of work. And because he was well-connected and familiar with the subject matter, Westphal hired Enman to help her with the project.

"That exhibit was just not enough for me," Westphal said in an interview. "It featured just one painting from each artist, but I could tell these artists were accomplished and not just Sunday painters. I wanted to put this together, because seeing one painting from a painter is like trying to eat only one potato chip out of a bag. You just really want more. So I dove in."

After extensive research and with the help of several friends, Westphal self-published "Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland" (1982), and after much success, went on to produce "Plein Air Painters of California: The North" (1986), and "American Scene Painting: California, 1930s and 1940s" (1991).

Skirting the Angeles National Forest, Westphal was born in Glendora in 1932, Westphal spent her childhood in the mountains, on the beaches and along the deserts of the Golden State.

She was a self-starter in many regards. She put herself through UCLA, graduating in 1958 with a bachelor's in education, and proceeded to teach in Los Angeles for a decade. In 1968, she earned a master's at Chapman University that focused on systems-based education.

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