A fixture in Chicago's art community for more than 55 years, Ruth Horwich championed young artists and donated significant pieces to the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Her most visible contribution to Chicago's art scene may be her part, with her husband Leonard, in the donation of the Jean Dubuffet sculpture "Monument with a Standing Beast," which stands in front of the James R. Thompson Center.
"Ruth was extremely important to Chicago's contemporary world going back to the late 1950s," said Art Institute President and Director Douglas Druick. "She was a devoted supporter of unknown and emerging artists, often welcoming them into her home for parties or to see her wonderful collection. And she and her late husband, Leonard, had one of the most fascinating collections in Chicago — dada and surrealism, self-taught artists and Chicago artists."
Mrs. Horwich, 94, died of natural causes Monday, July 21, at her home in Chicago's South Side Kenwood neighborhood, said her daughter, Barbara Horwich Lloyd.
Born Ruth Petnick on leap day 1920 in Atlantic City, N.J., Mrs. Horwich grew up in Philadelphia, where she attended high school. She met her future husband of 41 years while he was working in the Philadelphia factory of his family's business, General Felt, a rug pad manufacturer.
The couple married in November 1942 and moved to Kenwood, where they later bought a house and raised their family.
In the late 1950s, Mrs. Horwich and her husband began collecting art, becoming early supporters of American sculptor Alexander Calder. She became involved with the Hyde Park Art Center and chaired the board for 40 years. She also was one of the founding members of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1967. Mrs. Horwich had been a trustee on the museum's board since 1984.
"Ruth was a great role model as someone who enjoyed life to the fullest, appreciated art deeply in its most classical and popular forms, and was equal parts self-possessed and generous. She was an essential part of this museum's historic grounding and 'living history,'" said the MCA's director, Madeleine Grynsztejn.
The couple's collection "had a tremendous impact on the MCA. The iconic works by Alexander Calder that the MCA exhibits every day are here thanks to Ruth and Leonard's generous gifts and loans. And to me, the pure joy these works give our public is the central legacy of Ruth's life."
Mrs. Horwich and her husband opened their sprawling Kenwood home to young artists, offering them a place where they could gather to discuss their work.
"It was a place which was an incredible resource for artists, especially young artists. There wasn't anything like it in Chicago at the time," former Hyde Park Art Center chairman Deone Jackman said in a 2010 video for the center. "From very early, her generosity has been very special."
Longtime friend Lori Myers, who lived in Mrs. Horwich's home for a time, remembered Mrs. Horwich as "one of the most generous humans, who taught me about class and taught me the old-school ways. She was really one of a kind."
Friends and family also remembered Mrs. Horwich's elegant personal style. Beginning in the mid-1970s, she began buying clothing and jewelry from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. However, she took pains to clarify that her relationship to garments and jewels was different than her connection to works of art.
"I don't think of myself as a collector of clothes," she told the Tribune's Genevieve Buck in 1983. "I buy them to wear them and enjoy them. The clothes are so unusual. You certainly don't see yourself coming and going when you wear them."
Leonard Horwich died in 1983. Mrs. Horwich continued to support young artists and to share the artwork that she and her husband had acquired. That included a contribution to obtaining the 29-foot-high Dubuffet sculpture in front of the Thompson Center, which was unveiled in November 1984.
In 1992, Mrs. Horwich announced the donation of 15 works by Calder to the Museum of Contemporary Art, consisting of nine mobiles, three sculptures and three works on paper.
Retired Renaissance Society Executive Director and Chief Curator Susanne Ghez, now an adjunct curator at the Art Institute, said that with Mrs. Horwich's death, "it seems like the passing of an era."
"We've lost the grande dame of the Chicago cultural community," Ghez said. "She supported a wide range of cultural institutions in the city, and she had a wide range of friends, from really young, struggling artists to high-profile art historians."
Mrs. Horwich also served on the boards of the Poetry Foundation, the Institute of Design, Victory Gardens and the foundation of the Chicago Cultural Center.
Mrs. Horwich also is survived by another daughter, Ann Snider; two sons, William and Jonathan; three granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd., Chicago.Copyright © 2015, CT Now