Gikow, Ruth

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GIKOW, RUTH (1915–1982), U.S. artist, known primarily as a figurative painter of murals and easel paintings. Gikow was also involved in socially conscious organizations, worked on wpa-sponsored murals, and held several gallery exhibitions before her death.

Gikow was born in Russian Ukraine to Boris and Lena Gikow. Her family fled after a pogrom and spent the first years of Ruth's life wandering in Eastern Europe, at one point living in a gypsy camp outside Bucharest. They immigrated to New York City in 1920, when Ruth was five years old. After graduating from Washington Irving High School with honors in art, Gikow won admission to Cooper Union, where she studied with regionalist painter John Steuart Curry. A scholarship enabled her to study with social realist painter Raphael Soyer, whose progressive sympathies were more to Gikow's political tastes. Another lasting influence was Cooper Union's director Austin Purvis, who took students into the urban streets, encouraging them to represent daily life in their art. Gikow began to paint scenes of common people on the street, in stores, and in parks, exhibiting a dedication to figurative art and humanity that would characterize her art throughout her life. During the 1930s Gikow became involved with activist artists' organizations like the Artists' Union and the American Artists' Congress. In the late 1930s she taught at the American Artists School, successor to the radical left-wing John Reed Club Art School.

In 1940, while working with the Mural Division of the New York City wpa Art Project, Gikow executed a mural for the children's wing of Bronx Hospital. Entitled Children's Indoor and Outdoor Activities, the mural depicted a world with children and animals living together in harmony. In 1943, the artist was featured in live demonstrations of mural painting at the World's Fair, in which Gikow stood on a 12-foot scaffolding while visitors watched her paint and listened to her explain the process. She also painted commercial murals for retail stores, including Macy's. By 1946, when the artist held her first one-person show of oil paintings, she had participated in group shows at the a.c.a. Gallery and elsewhere, designed textiles, and produced illustrations for such books as Crime and Punishment and History of the Jews in America (a children's text). Gikow was a strong colorist, often mixing her oil paints with turpentine to achieve a more fluid effect.

In 1946 she married painter Jack Levine and had one daughter. Her paintings were purchased by major art museums including the Metropolitan, the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters in New York, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Tel Aviv Museum, as well as collections at Brandeis University, New York University, and elsewhere. By the time of her death, Gikow had received several honors, including a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in 1959, two Childe Hassam awards, and a Smith College citation as one of America's ten outstanding women artists.

[Lauren B. Strauss (2nd ed.)]